Archive for the 'Privacy' Category

 

Mar 23 2009

Facebook Privacy Stats Discussion

by at 6:30 pm

My friend Kevin Donovan sent me a link (thanks Kevin) to this post (by Fred Stutzman) criticizing a NYTimes article (by Randall Stross) about how Facebook is affecting privacy boundaries for different age groups.

Personally I think the post is a bit too harsh on the NYTimes article (along with Michael Zimmer‘s), but provides excellent data points in his criticism.

Stutzman quotes some excellent data (see his post for references):

Stross simply has this one wrong.  Instead of misguided intuition, let’s look at the numbers.  In the Summer/Fall of 2008, Jacob Kramer-Duffield and I ran a survey of undergraduate Facebook users.  We employed a list-based simple random sample, with 494 respondents.  When asked the question Have you changed the default Facebook privacy settings to give yourself enhanced privacy in Facebook?, 72.47% responded “Yes.” To the question Based on your Facebook privacy settings choices, who do you allow to see your Facebook profile?, 50% answered “Only my Facebook friends.” (1)

It’s good to see that Facebook users are beginning to learn how to use the many settings Facebook gives them to control their privacy, such that the percentages have changed dramatically.  It had been weird to see so many Facebook users unresponsive to the privacy tools given to them.

I also liked Stutzman’s final comments:

First, Facebook defaults have changed over the years, so a default now may have been a modification in the past.  Second, Facebook’s audience is increasingly international, so we must remember that norms will vary significantly across nations and cultures.  Third, privacy is not in Facebook’s business interests.  Less privacy = more content, so it may not be in Facebook’s interest to craft a privacy statistic that reflects current norms.

But Stutzman concludes with this:

Young people didn’t simply decide to give up privacy.  Rather, the studies show that social network sites, in their early iterations, created a very meaningful sense of close community.  Young people disclosed not because attitudes about privacy instantly and simultaneously changed, but because they felt very comfortable with their audience.

Hmm.  It seems as though Randall Stross was just saying that older people do not take as freely to sharing their lives publicly as younger people would.  Is that horribly wrong to say?  While there is more resistance among older people, sure, many will eventually adapt (I’ve been getting my dad to share more online).

But generational memory and identity are hard to break; try as we might, there will be many of the older generations who will just never change, and will never want to share online.  They grew up in a different world, and it sticks with them.  I’m not saying Stutzman is wrong — I would just like to see him add generational memory to the study of old vs. young people.  I’d argue that kids these days are being wired to accept a future flesh/digital hybrid world…one where a radical transparency and accountability system exists and there is little privacy except for the most intimate parts of our lives.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Ben Turner,Context,Privacy

Feb 28 2009

Shiv Sena’s Orkut Campaign: The Limits to Freedom of Expression in an Intolerant India

by at 3:30 am

Introduction: Freedom of Expression in the Indian Blogosphere

The Indian blogosphere is abuzz with discussions on freedom of expression after the Supreme Court refused to throw out Shiv Sena’s defamation case against 19 year old computer science student Ajith D (TOI).

However, the Indian blogosphere’s reactions to the controversy are mostly based on reports on the incident in Indian media. The quality of this reporting, however, has been very mediocre, with few details and little background information. As a result, bloggers are reacting to incomplete information.

So, before I do a roundup of the Indian blogosphere’s reactions to the story and share my own views, let me first present the basic facts.

Shiv Sena’s Tradition of Violent Protests

Let’s start with Shiv Sena itself. Shiv Sena is a far right political party in Maharashtra that built a strong base amongst the Marathi community in the sixties based on its militant ideology that Maharashtra belonged to the Marathi community and migrants from other Indian states should be thrown out. Starting from the mid-seventies, the Shiv Sena shifted its focus to a strong pro-Hindutva (and anti-Muslim) ideology, a shift that solidified in the mid nineties, when it became an integral part of right wing alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The Shiv Sena has often been accused of being involved in coordinated political violence against against non-Marathis and non-Hindus. It is widely acknowledged that Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackery, who is revered amongst its supporters, has been instrumental in inciting such violence on many occasions. The Shiv Sena also has a long and well-documented history of violent protests against journalists, writers and artists who speak against its extremist ideologies (see BBC 1, BBC 2, BBC 3, BBC 4, NYT 1, NYT 2, NYT 3, NYT 4, Guardian 1, Guardian 2).

It’s important that we look at Shiv Sena’s ire against Orkut in the context of its long history of ideological intolerance and violent protests.

Shiv Sena’s Unholy Nexus With Orkut

The story started in November 2006, when Shiv Sena activists stumbled across an anti-Shivaji community on Orkut. Shivaji is a 16th century Maratha warrior, who is revered by the Marathi community. Pune police asked cyber cafe owners to block the anti-Shivaji community after violence by Shiv Sena. A public interest litigation was also filed in Bombay High Court to ban Orkut for hosting the anti-Shivaji community (TOI 1, TOI 2, Rediff 1, Rediff 2, NDTV, Financial Express).

In January 2007, the Maharashtra government requested the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), a Delhi-based regulatory body under the Ministry of Information and Technology, to remove the offensive content. According to the Information Technology Act of 2000 and the gazette notification issued in February 2003, the CERT is responsible for investigating requests to block websites from notified officers of the Union government or the state governments. If it finds the website objectionable, it communicate its decision to the licensing and regulations cell of the department of telecommunications for passing the order to the internet service providers to block the website (Indian Express, Live Mint).

The Shiv Sena also asked its supporters to flag these communities on Orkut, so that they could be banned (Orkut discussion thread 1, Orkut discussion thread 2). This resulted in a flagging war on Orkut, where users who were part of pro-Sena and anti-Sena communities flagged each other’s communities. For a short while, many pro-Sena and anti-Sena communities were banned by Google, but many of them were quickly reinstated (Orkut discussion thread).

The Shiv Sena also sent letters to Google and internet service providers in India to block these communities and even met up with Google officials, along with Maharashtra government and Mumbai police officials.

In January 2007, Google decided to cooperate with the Mumbai police and instituted an informal arrangement called the Priority Reporting Tool which enabled Mumbai police to directly report objectionable content to Google and also ask it for details of IP addresses and service providers. Based on the recommendation of Mumbai Police, Google deleted communities against Shivaji, Bal Thackeray and dalit leader B R Ambedkar (TOI, IHT, Indian Express).

Google usually uses IP blocking to block controversial content only in countries in which it violates local laws and refuses to share the IP addresses of its users (NYT). Under Indian law, if IP addresses of the offenders need to be obtained, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) needs to be involved. So, it’s strange that Google decided to help Mumbai police short-circuit the Indian legal system. Google, by the way, hasn’t really explained why it made an exception in Orkut’s case, when the Indian cyber law already had a process for handling such a situation.

However, even as Google banned some communities that contained defamatory content, it initially refused to ban several other communities that were against Shiv Sena’s leaders or ideologies. As a result, Abhijit Phanse, the president of Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena, the student wing of Shiv Sena, took matters in his own hands and led a violent campaign against Orkut.

In May 2007, the Sena sent letters to internet cafes threatening attacks against their establishments, if they didn’t stop their customers from accessing these Orkut communities. In June 2006, it followed up on its threats by ransacking several internet cafes in Mumbai and physically abusing cafe owners and customers. As a result, cyber cafes in Mumbai registered a drop in traffic and were forced to put up notices asking their customers not to visit Orkut.

The Shiv Sena also pressured Mumbai police, which has often been criticized for being partial to the Sena, to support its cause. The police instructed internet cafe owners in Mumbai and Thane to prohibit their customers from accessing Orkut, asked Google to block the controversial communities on Orkut, and even requested CERT-In, to ban Orkut. The Sena also sent a letter to President A P J Abdul Kalam, requesting him to ban Orkut.

The Sena even announced that it was developing a special software that internet service providers could install to block any message containing certain words and phrases such as “I hate” or “I despise”.

These incidents were widely documented in Indian media (see Reuters 1, Rediff 1, Rediff 2, IBN Live, NDTV, Indian Express 1, Indian Express 2, Indian Express 3, Indian Express 4, Indian Express 5, Economic Times, Business Standard 1, Business Standard 2, TOI) and debated in the Indian blogosphere and Orkut community (The Hindu). It’s especially worthwhile to see two opinion pieces by Amit Varma in LiveMint and Sevathi Ninan in The Hindu criticizing these trends.

The news stories don’t give details about CERT’s decision on banning Orkut, or the final settlement between Shiv Sena and Orkut, but several anti-Shiv Sena communities have been banned since then.

The Mumbai and Pune police have also put their arrangement with Google to good use since then.

In September/ October 2007, the Pune police arrested four Bangalore based software engineers — 25 year old Lakshmana Kailash, 23 year old Manjunath Betegowda, 23 year old Harish Shetty and 22 year old Kiran Reddy — for posting an obscene profile of Shivaji on Orkut, in which he was shown clad in female innerwear (Economic Times, TOI). It was later found that the arrest of Lakshmana Kailash, who was detained for 50 days, was based on wrong IP addresses provided by Bharti Airtel (TOI 1, TOI 2, TOI 3, The Hindu, Rediff). Lakshmana then sued Airtel, Maharashtra government and Mumbai police and demanded Rs 20 crore in damages (IBN Live, TOI). The status of his case isn’t clear from the news reports.

In August 2008, the Mumbai Police arrested Ghaziabad based computer engineer Adarsh Sinha for posting death threats against Bal Thackeray using a fake email identity in the name of Faizab Farooqi. They also arrested Mumbai resident Suresh Shetty, a moderator of this community. (TOI)

Shiv Sena isn’t Alone on Orkut

Incidentally, there are similar communities on Orkut against other political parties and political leaders, including “We Hate Congress”, “I Hate Indira Gandhi,” “I Hate Rajshekhar Reddy”, “We hate Pratibha Patil” and “I Hate Deve Gowda” (Business Standard, Rediff, TOI, Mid Day, Salon).

In October 2006, the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court directed the Maharashtra government to issue a notice to Google for hosting a community called ‘We Hate India’ on Orkut, forcing Google to delete the community (TOI, Business Standard, Economics Times).

In March 2007, Google deleted a community that had defamatory content against West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, after Kolkata police asked Mumbai police to help it ban it (Economic Times, The Telegraph).

In May 2008, the Pune police arrested 22 year old Gurgaon based IT professional Rahul Vaid for posting derogatory content about Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi on an Orkut community named “I Hate Sonia Gandhi”. In June 2008, they also arrested 22 year old Hyderabad resident Nithin Sajja for a similar offense. Interestingly, the person who formed this community wasn’t considered guilty as per the law. The police said that “hating Sonia Gandhi is a personal opinion of the person who formed the community and having a personal opinion about someone is not an offense as per the law” (TOI 1), (TOI 2).

The Pune police is also looking for three Uttar Pradesh residents — Rohit Wadhwani, Amit Arya and Ankit Sharma — for posting abusive messages involving Mahatma Gandhi on Orkut (Indian Express).

It’s interesting to note that Mumbai and Pune police is involved in almost all the cases related to defamation of political figures in Orkut communities, even though Google has similar arrangements with police in five Indian cities (Telegraph). One news report says that Pune police itself has arrested 16 people in such incidents (Indian Express). It seems as if there is a war of oneupmanship amongst Shiv Sena and Congress members in Maharashtra to win brownie points with their leaders by pressuring Mumbai and Pune police to pursue these cases.

By the way, the Indian government has also considered banning user generated videos on mobile (MMS) and the web (Economic Times) and the Mumbai police has installed keystroke logging software in cyber cafes to tackle piracy and cyber crime.

Shiv Sena’s Case Against Ajith D

Ajith D, a 19 year computer science student from Kerala, started a community called ‘I Hate Shiv Sena’ on Orkut. One of the anonymous commentators on the website posted a death threat to Bal Thackeray. It seems from news reports the Mumbai police has charged Ajith for both criminal intimidation and hurting religious sentiments.

Mumbai police tracked Ajith’s Orkut and GMail accounts for a week to ascertain his address and sent a team to his hometown in Cherthala, in August 2008, to nab him. However, television channels flashed news of their arrival, helping Ajith to escape and the police team could only confiscate the hard disk of his computer. The team also said that they were observing the Orkut postings and Internet activities of around 50 other members of the community (Hindu).

Subsequently, Ajith got anticipatory bail from Kerala High Court and moved the Supreme Court through counsel Jogy Scaria seeking quashing of the criminal complaint based on the ground that he hadn’t posted the death threat and the community itself wasn’t defamatory. The Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justice P Sathasivam, however, refused to protect him and said: “if someone files a criminal action on the basis of the content, then you will have to face the case. You have to go before the court and explain your conduct.” (TOI) The media has also quoted very vague remarks from the judgment that can be interpreted very loosely: “You are a computer student and you know how many people access internet portals” (TOI); “Anything that is posted on the internet goes to the public” (The Guardian); “If a case is filed in a foreign country go and face it” (The Hindu).

Roundup of Blog Discussions on the Ajith D Case

As I mentioned above, several bloggers have reacted strongly to the Supreme Court judgment, often based on partial information (CXOToday).

Lawyer Lawrence Liang at Kafila writes a detailed post on whether a defamation case should be settled under civil law or criminal law and delineates a history of defamation cases against Indian bloggers. He also makes a pertinent point in the Ajith D case —

When organizations like the Shiv Sena and the Sri Ram Sene start using defamation laws, it smacks of chutzpah to me. The definition of Chutzpah is a person who kills his parents, and then claims clemency on the grounds that he is an orphan. What other way can we describe the bizarre situation of the violence prone macho men, who suddenly run around screaming about the violation of their legal rights and the slurring of their reputation?

Patrix thinks that the Indian legal system is biased against freedom of speech —

As you see, anything under the sun can be categorized as an restriction to your freedom of speech. If I say something innocuous and that leads to couple of weirdos smashing shop windows in the town, all it does to get me into trouble is the weirdos saying that my words made them do it. My freedom of speech will be curtailed under “public order” or “incitement to an offense” restrictions. Shouldn’t actions be punished instead of words?

Marshall Kirkpatrick at RWW thinks that the Supreme Court judgement has repercussions for bloggers in all democratic societies —

It’s a good idea for us as individual web users to remember that even as new internet technology sets so much information and so many voices free, even in a celebrated democracy – online freedom may be one repressive legal ruling away from being put at serious risk. No matter where you might live – do you trust that your local judiciary would understand the issues in a case like this? We don’t.

Nikhil Moro from Civic & Citizen Journalism Interest Group thinks that freedom of expression lost a case in India —

Historically India’s courts have accorded a high place for expression in the hierarchy of freedoms, but as Mr. Ajit’s unfortunate affair shows, social media activists should expect the state to use a myriad of laws other than libel.

Sanjukta thinks that the Supreme Court decision is good for Indian blogging —

This would help clean up a lot of #@%$ that goes around the blogsphere, will help us become more responsible and mature writers thereby establishing credibility for bloggers’ opinion and most importantly it would kill the terrible habit of writing all kinds of indecent, uncivilized, abusive things anonymously in the comments thread. This would also compel the blog owner or community discussion board owner to keep the discussion clean and abuse free. It will enforce the dicipline of self regulation on bloggers, isn’t that a great thing to achieve.

2s at Mutiny warns against a simplistic discussion on freedom of expression —

The laws of the land must find better ways to control what is being written or said in a public forum than restricting and threatening bloggers with action. Bloggers in India must together call for what I think is a more mature approach and law towards dealing with public defamatory comments on the internet. Bloggers are, after all, not “public” figures like political leaders are and to judge both by the same yardstick might not necessarily be the best method. Besides, is this restricted to just blog posts? What about comments on these posts? What about tweets?

Pramit Singh believes that the SC judgment shouldn’t scare bloggers in India —

Some might think the days of free-for-all Orkut groups are over. Others will say they are in fear of treading against people with might – the politicians, big business, virtually anyone with an army of lawyers, who, in this case are trying to put fear of appearing in courts for God knows how many times and thus choosing to ‘write wisely’.

However, I have faith in our Justice system. Bloggers are not going to face a million lawsuits in India.

Dhananjay Nene thinks that the Supreme Court’s judgment isn’t a conclusive blow to bloggers’ rights —

One important aspect which is perhaps easy to lose sight of in this debate is that the Supreme Court did not weigh in on the guilt or lack of it in this case, but on the fact that the person could not shy away from the responsibility to face the charges in a court.

Lawyer Praveen Dalal also says that we should not read too much in the Supreme Court’s judgment —

With the Constitutional Protections on the side of Bloggers there must be very strong reasons to book a person for Defamation or disturbing Religious Harmony. The case is before the lower court that is also a fact finding authority. It is only after the lower court comes to a conclusion that we can proceed either to convict or acquit the accused Blogger. The Supreme Court of India did not found reasons to “Quash” the criminal proceeding against the accused and in the absence of the complete facts of the case as well as the copy of the judgment, it is very difficult to judge the correctness or incorrectness of the same. However, in all probability the accused would be either acquitted or released after admonition.

In an email reproduced in Vijay Mohanty‘s post, senior blogger-journalist Prem Panicker also thinks that the Supreme Court verdict is no big deal —

The SC only said that it cannot, suo moto, quash a criminal prosecution.

It did not say the case is well-founded — that is for the court to decide on the basis of existing law.

Conclusion: The Limits to Freedom of Expression in an Intolerant India

As for me, I see the Ajith D case as part of a larger trend, which operates at many levels.

At the very least, we should see this case as part of Mumbai and Pune police’s crusade against inflammatory Orkut communities. Sixteen Orkut users have been arrested in the last two years on charges of criminal intimidation and hurting religious sentiments, and one of them spent 50 days in police custody based on a mistake in identifying an IP address! It’s a serious crusade that will only become more intense in the foreseeable future and it raises several important questions.

To begin with, do we really want to defend a blogger, or a community owner, or a commentator, who has posted death threats against a common citizen or a public figure, or allowed these comments to be posted and then refused to remove them?

Going beyond that, should the Indian legal system apply the same standards for defamation for a common citizen and a public figure, especially a public figure as controversial as Bal Thackeray?

How can we allow a political party like Shiv Sena, which has set unprecedented standards in inflammatory religious speech (and violent action to back it up), to complain about blog posts or community comments hurting religious sentiments?

And, finally, given Google’s willingness to short-circuit the Indian legal system and share Orkut and GMail personal data with Mumbai and Pune police, how comfortable should we feel in building our entire online presence on Google’s services?

At another level, we should see this case as part of a trend, in India and in democratic countries internationally, where traditional institutions are fighting back against the internet and trying to limit its freedoms.
Barkha Dutt and NDTV threatening to sue blogger Chetan Kunte for defamation is a part of this trend. Shri Ram Sena beating up women in a Mangalore pub and then threatening to sue the organizers of the Pink Chaddi Campaign is a part of this trend. US senators refusing to believe that child predators aren’t a big threat on the internet is part of this trend. US, UK, Australian and Indian governments introducing tough censorship and cyber crime laws are also a part of this trend.

All these actions, individually and collectively, curtail our personal and public freedoms and also our ability to fight for these freedoms. By threatening to sue a blogger, rightly or wrongly, NDTV has curtailed Indian media’s ability to question violations of freedom of speech in India. Similarly, by closing down the internet in their own countries, US, UK, Australia and India have curtailed their ability to question violations of freedom of speech in Iran or China.

So, what happens in the case of Ajith D is important in itself, but it is also important as part of what’s happening with the internet itself. It’s critical that we force ourselves to open our eyes and see the bigger picture before it’s too late.

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Censorship,Culture,Gaurav Mishra,India,Privacy,Social Change,Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Dec 22 2008

On Negative Identity

by at 2:21 pm

Over on my reputation research blog, I wrote a post that applies to our Yahoo! work too.

It’s on the concept of “negative identity”:  perhaps social identity formation consists of an element of defining yourself by what you are not.  That is, you don’t always actively define your identity in terms of all the things you like to do, but instead, by who you are not and by what you don’t like.

Most social networking sites tend to allow users to define themselves only by what they are:  that is, what are your favorite hobbies, music, movies, etc.?  Who are your friends?  But you don’t really use social groups on social networking sites to keep other groups out, do you?

Anyway, check my post out.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Ben Turner,Culture,Privacy,Theory

Dec 07 2008

Identities and Censorship

by at 5:10 pm

Pseudonymity

One excellent point brought up during our breakfast presentation in the CCT lounge (their journal, Gnovis, posted a write-up of it by Margarita Rayzberg) was that one coping mechanism for lack of privacy controls on an SNS or within an intrusive state is to create fake profiles and characters and pseudonyms in order to operate online.

(Outside our discussion, I want to quickly add, why Asians are more comfortable with avatars, pseudonyms, and anime in representing themselves online?)

Anyway, in my privacy controls post, I showed just how extensive Facebook’s privacy controls are.  This allows people to feel more secure about putting more information into Facebook’s databases because, whether they use those controls or not, they feel as though they can control their own data.

But Brazil uses Orkut, which has fairly weak controls relative to the rest of the spectrum of SNSs (Myspace excluded).  I am not sure if Brazilians fear government intrusiveness into their day-to-days, since I haven’t done the research yet, so if they are using fake profiles quite often, then it might be because they are uncomfortable sharing info that those in their peer group or real life may view.  We see this phenomenon here in the US with Myspace users.  Younger users are encouraged to create fake profiles to hide from their parents, unauthenticated classmates, and other outside, threatening players in their lives.

I would argue that pseudonymity has an unappreciated role online.  Anonymity has been with us since the start, back to “on the internet, no one knows you’re a dog”.  Certainly much has been made about verified identity online, to facilitate trade and commerce — it wasn’t long ago that people refused to shop online for fear of fraud, an irrational fear as it turned out.

Pseudonymity has been discussed at length as well, as most outsiders see it as escapism from reality and compensating for missing traits in real-world personality.  But it also allows, at the identity layer level, for a blend of authentication and anonymity to make up for the lack of identity tools to properly set the level of privacy you’re comfortable with online.  You may want to be anonymous to all those who know you in real life, but you want to be known online within a certain community.  So you take a handle or nickname and create a reputation around it.

Censorship

The Yahoo!/ISD fellowship was originally created with the help of Michael Samway, Yahoo!’s VP and general counsel of human rights efforts and a former Georgetown MSFS alumnus, in response to a case of censorship by the Chinese government with the collaboration of Yahoo!.

The NYTimes this weekend published a long article called “Google’s Gatekeepers”, which describes a case involving Google’s YouTube property and Turkey’s blocking YouTube because of videos from Greece that defamed the founder of modern Turkey, which is a crime there.  This spurred a look into how Google decides which videos get taken down and why.

What should companies do about issues such as this?  Should they concede to governments’ wishes in order to stay in the market, particularly one as delectable as China’s?  If they decide to stick to principles of free speech and user protection, they risk being banned, while their competitors could decide to concede and gain the lost market share.

For now, multiple stakeholders have formed the Global Network Initiative in order to collaborate and work together to ensure freedom of speech and privacy; it remains to be seen who will cooperate with the group and who will break apart, and whether they can exert enough leverage on governments to back off from censorship.

The Little Guy

What I am primarily concerned with in my research is how all this affects the little guy.  You, me, those in BRIC countries.  How do different countries’ users approach social media usage, knowing the risks they take both socially and from their governments?  From some discussions I’ve had (but with nothing concrete to back it up), it seems as though Chinese users have a good sense of where the line is when saying something potentially risky in the government’s eyes.  It’s hard to draw such a line when it comes to what one can say within his social network, though, since there are many more actors and attitudes and roles of relationships with that person.  In other words, what you would say if you knew your mom was listening and what you would say if your best friend or boss were listening would be markedly different.  At least you know in China fairly reasonably what you should and shouldn’t say in order to get the government censors concerned.

With that in mind, I think my privacy model holds well, although I’ve learned from our CCT chat and various other discussions to modify some of the language and words used, since each word has very specific meanings and inferences.

Your True Identity

The last thing I want to talk about here is with regards to hiding your true identity, as in your real life identity.  In my “What’s Shaping the Internet” class (also in the CCT department), one of my colleagues did a presentation on Chinese censorship.  One thing I started thinking deeply about through the pre-class reading was that foreign companies use tunneling and encrypted networks to pass through the Chinese firewall (or “Golden Shield”) in order to phone home to their offices.  Both technically (encrypted tunneling is hard to defeat or wiretap) and commercially (if foreign companies have no privacy, then they would object and would pull business out for fear of losing trade secrets or more), encrypted networks and VPNs within China seem untouchable.

This ability can’t necessarily be said for regular Chinese citizens, who must find a secure connection to use in order to start tunneling securely.  But it brings up the interesting question:  how much tunneling do Chinese citizens engage in?

And would it really help them as far as SNSs go if they could tunnel out?  SNSs are huge in China and by statistics we’ve discussed earlier, Chinese use social media far more than Americans do.

But at some point, can you really escape who you are?  If you could post about yourself on computers based in a country that protects free speech, you’re still at some level talking about metadata that links back to your identity back home.  If you were to scrub all your information of your real name or pseudonym, it would not take much work to find out where you live, what you do, and who you know.  It would then not be much of a stretch to find you.  Your personal data is horribly non-anonymous whether you’re Publius or Joe Klein.

So we’re led back to the beginning of this post, resorting to using pseudonyms to create completely fictional characters that anonymize our real life personas.

3 responses so far | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Ben Turner,Brazil,Censorship,China,Privacy,Social Media

Dec 02 2008

Hiatus

by at 11:50 pm

Apologies for the interruption in posting regularly.  It’s the end of the semester and I can’t speak for Gaurav and Pav but I’ve had a lot of on-going semester-long projects.  The Mumbai attacks hit close to home for Gaurav and Pav and I kept up with Gaurav’s tweets and posts during the Thanksgiving break while watching TV coverage and reading the spotty journalism online.  Certainly there was a communitas and online awareness during the Mumbai hostage situations that’s unique to our times.

In mid-November, Gaurav gave a presentation during a Georgetown CCT (Communications, Culture, and Technology) breakfast chat. The CCT program, by the way, has a really cool blog called gnovis which covers interdisciplinary issues such as culture, technology, media, politics, and the arts. Add it to your RSS feed!

I assisted in covering a few slides for the presentation.  Our topic was how cultural context affects social media usage in the BRIC countries and in the US.

Gaurav posted the excellent slideshow he presented, so you can check it out:

This presentation was very useful for us because the CCT students are not only already well-versed in the subject we covered, but also pointed out areas we completely overlooked, studies we used that have blind spots, and presented an argument that we should look more carefully at how the different BRIC countries and the US view issues like privacy, openness, and sharing.

So these issues I will be researching for my future posts, particularly how the word “privacy” does not translate well into other languages and is fairly confusing even in English.

I also plan to study the individual countries to see if I can isolate characteristics applicable to my studies on privacy and openness vs. closedness.

It should also be mentioned that discussion within the web developer community regarding identity, sharing data across sites, and privacy vs. advertising is extremely hot right now, so I will try to post more summaries of good stories I see out there on that front.

Happy belated Thanksgiving, and here’s hoping you have a happy holiday season, wherever you are.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Ben Turner,BRIC,Context,Culture,Privacy,Social Media

Nov 07 2008

Social Networking Sites’ Privacy Settings

by at 1:38 am

In order to get a better sense of how different social networking sites (SNS) in the US and BRIC countries approach their users’ privacy, I took screenshots from Facebook, Myspace, Orkut, and Vkontakte.  A very kind master’s student from China, Lydia Zhang, was kind enough to take screenshots of Xiaonei, China’s top SNS, and then translate them into English for our benefit!  Much love to Lydia!! (Lydia is working on a paper on SNSs as well; please, if you are a US student, fill out her survey and e-mail it along to her.  Thanks!)

Myspace is primarily a US thing, while Facebook is popular in the US but also in many other countries around the world (earlier, Gaurav posted about Oxyweb’s map of SNSs around the world).

Orkut is primarily associated with India and Brazil while Vkontakte is associated with Russia.  China’s primary SNS, Xiaonei, competes with Kaixin, but according to Lydia:

“Kaixin (means fun and happiness in Chinese) is a fast-growing SNS in China. Its success mainly relies on its spam-spreading e-mail invitation strategies among SNS users.  Some Chinese internet observers said Kaixin attracts people mainly from companies.  Those white-collar workers spend most of their boring working time on Kaixin to play games developed by third-parties with their colleagues, even their bosses.  This is what they think, leads to Kaixin’s surprisingly high user involvement.  Because users of Xiaonei are mostly college students, who don’t have convenient access (as those white-collar workers in companies) to internet because of economic factors. Generally speaking, Kaixin is basically a clone of Xiaonei but is featured by its spam-spreading and  some popular third-party applications, for example, some most successful games directly copied from FB and some games developed by Chinese third-party. These games of Chinese characteristic could be a possible topic for cross-cultural studies on group involvement of Chinese and foreign SNS. This requires more observations and I will keep tracking those information. Interesting enough is that Xiaonei now realised Kaixin’s threatening expanding and launched recently a new SNS aming at competing with Kaixin in games and other entertaining functions.”

A few notes:  1) Screenshots were taken on Nov. 1, 2008.  2) The screenshots are somewhat huge so I’m just using thumbnails for this post.  I’ve linked to the full-size versions instead.

Privacy settings menu screenshots:

Facebook

Facebook by far has the most extensive and precise (and as danah boyd says, confusing) security settings.  Not only can you blacklist individual users so that they can’t access you at all, you can also configure virtually any different category of information about yourself (education, work, bio, friends) by more categories than the other major SNSs:  friends, friends of friends, your primary network, all your networks, anyone, only some networks, and no one at all.  For your schools, you can also specify by undergrads, grads, alumns, faculty, and staff.

Facebook has so many privacy settings that it breaks them down into four primary categories:  profile, search, news feed and wall, and applications.  Primarily, you can limit your biographical information, who can see your different photo albums, and whether your info gets posted on your wall or not.  You can block whether search engines will index your profile or not, as well.

Another unique feature to Facebook is to see how your profile would look to a specific friend in your network, as an added security measure for those who are nervous about specific people.

At this point I must say that it would be difficult to quantify the number of settings per SNS to see which allowed for the most privacy.  Certainly Facebook offers a level of granularity unparalleled by any other SNS.  It doesn’t, however, let you open up your profile to everyone. The best way to measure degrees of privacy on other SNSs perhaps is to see what the other SNSs lack compared to Facebook.

Myspace

Myspace is currently the biggest SNS in the US but it’s highly doubtful that that will continue to be the case for much longer.  Myspace is undergoing a strategy revamp but is also not very useful compared to Facebook except in specific circumstances.  I was also amazed to see that it offers very little in the way of privacy control.

Myspace offers an individual blacklist, but otherwise has only 5 discrete settings under privacy to customize.  It lets you hide your age, online status, and birthday; it also allows you to blanket-protect your photos (with no granularity), and control who can view your profile by age.  Given that Myspace has the younger online demographic, compared with Facebook, this is completely unacceptable.  Not only does it not do a good job of protecting adults’ privacy, but it does very little to protect minors’ identities.  Outside literature I’ve read has suggested that minors have compensated by creating fake profiles known only among their circles of friends.

Orkut

Orkut, owned by Google, is used a lot in India and Brazil but not so much in the US.  It also has a surprisingly weak array of privacy control options, all fitting on one screen, just like Myspace’s.

Orkut protects against photo tagging (people uploading photos and tagging that you are in them), update statuses, Google indexing (since it’s integrated with Google search), and anonymous friend requests.  It lets you protect certain features (scraps, photos, testimonials, feeds) by three levels of settings:  friends, friends of friends, and anyone.  There is no “no one” setting or anything more granular.

Brazilians and Indians don’t seem to mind.

Vkontakte

Vkontakte is the most popular SNS in Russia, and along with China’s Xiaonei, is a blatant complete Facebook rip-off both in color scheme and layout.  Facebook has sued Vkontakte because of this.  The site DOES provide English support, which is useful for branching out from Russia.

One thing that’s interesting is that upon login, you have to check a box to NOT have Vkontakte save your login settings automatically.

Vkontakte has a blacklist feature.

Vkontakte lets you show your info to only friends, friends of friends, no one, and all users.  Mostly the controls, instead of controlling which of your info gets out, like on other SNSs, controls who can send info TO you, like invites, graffiti, and messages.  You can control who can view your photos or view your profile.  If you select “no one” for who can view your page, it actually says, “No one, delete my page”.  Harsh!

Xiaonei

Xiaonei leaves opting in as the default setting for many of its privacy controls.  For instance, unless you change your settings, anyone can see your entire profile at first, even if they don’t log in.

Xiaonei, as I learned from Lydia’s very helpful translations, probably has the second-best privacy controls to Facebook out of all the sites here.  Interestingly, it lets you share to all, or to just yourself, along with other degrees of privacy.  it lets you set privacy across several different categories of your personal information.  I counted more than 10 different categories.

I saw that Xiaonei offers IM on its profile page; IM in China is one of the biggest sources of traffic among Chinese users.  It also lets you see recent visitors, something you have on Orkut but not on other sites.

Conclusion

Both Myspace and Orkut contain separate settings to protect against spam.  This doesn’t exist on Facebook, Xiaonei (to my knowledge), and Vkontakte.  That they even have problems with spam says something about the data integrity within Myspace and Orkut.

I guess my closing question is, why does Facebook get so much more flak than other services for having lax privacy, when the other competitors’ sites are far worse?  Certainly Myspace had its days in the news for exposing minors to predators and abuse, but now Facebook is the target.  Is it also because Facebook not only might expose users to public and private abuse, but also to abuse by marketers, governments, employers, and corporations?  Is it telling that Xiaonei and Facebook, from China and the US, have similar degrees of privacy controls?

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Ben Turner,BRIC,Privacy,Social Media

Nov 02 2008

Hypotheses About Privacy Attitudes

by at 5:57 pm

We have found a lot of conflicting data in our research, as Gaurav expressed in his last post on Flickr privacy settings worldwide.  Brazil and India seem to favor Orkut, despite differing Geert-Hofstede attitudes towards uncertainty avoidance.  Universal McCann found that Americans seem to have fewer contacts and socialize far less online than the BRIC countries, which is odd given that online social networks had a head-start in the US.

In my research model, I am seeing how transparency is the positive compromise between closedness and openness.  Geert-Hofstede and Hall’s high- and low- contexts don’t seem to explain different countries’ behaviors satisfactorily.  I think my model, which breaks down openness and closedness into different aspects of peoples’ lives, like personal, financial, political, health, etc., helps to explain the contrasts far better, or at least leads me down a more productive line of research.

There is little data to go off since this study is new.  I’m not sure we have the time or money to conduct our own surveys or research.  But I’d like to hypothesize a bit on what I think is going on regarding social networking in the US and BRIC countries.

Facebook

For starters, Facebook is taking over the planet (see the SNS map Gaurav posted earlier).  In just three months of statistics, Facebook has overtaken the incumbent SNS in 12 different countries.  The only other SNS to take over a country is hi5, a self-titled “international social networking company with a local flavor”.  Interestingly, Gaurav pointed out to me that it is a San Francisco-based company, but it was started by Indians who moved to SF just to be part of the cluster.  According to the Oxyweb SNS map, Myspace is still the leader in the US over Facebook, which says something about how young Facebook is.

Furthermore, the two top SNSs in Russia and China are virtual identical clones of Facebook in most aspects.  This says something about the pervasiveness of Facebookism.  Imitation is flattery.

So if I were to look ahead into the future, I would have to see Facebook dominating the rest.  No other SNS offers as many privacy controls, and while Gaurav insightfully points out that Brazilians and Indians may prefer fewer settings because they are so social, what is most important to me is that Facebook is already thinking the most deeply about what the future will mean for personal data control, privacy, and security.

Facebook is also creating the most sophisticated application platform out there, even if it hasn’t monetized as quickly as iTunes’s application store or Google’s upcoming Android stores.  It has barely even begun to open up its data through Facebook Connect, yet it’s already sucking up tons of data from other sites through its import features.

Listening to Mark Zuckerberg, its founder, speak about social networking, you get the feeling that very few people understand as well as he does where this is all going.  Public outcries towards Beacon were a surprise to him, because in his mind, it makes more sense if your friends or at least people you trust recommend individual products or brands to you instead of behavioral marketing guesses at what you might like.

I think Facebook will take over because it’s building all the pieces for the future SNS world.  While open data control platforms will allow us to jailbreak and move from one SNS to the other easily, what we will begin to value is whichever SNS offers us the best features.  No one competes with Facebook in that regard, already.

Privacy Attitudes

So if I am to wonder why Americans are more “private” than the BRIC countries, I hypothesize that it’s because Americans desire personal privacy most, and are not as suspicious of political privacy.  That is, even after eavesdropping scandals, most Americans generally believe that they can voice their opinions about the government.  However, what Americans seem most deathly afraid of is privacy from employers, peers, and co-workers.  This has manifested itself in Facebook’s privacy controls, and a continual onslaught of outcries relating to personal privacy.  I would guess that Americans fear a loss of reputation within their professional community more than in their national community.  Americans talk a lot of potential employers reading their social networking profiles.

I am thinking there might be two key spheres that affect decision-making then:  privacy from government and privacy from society (personal privacy).  In my model, health, sexual, and financial privacy would be subsets of personal privacy.  Political privacy would stand on its own.  Are there subsets of political privacy?

Contrast the US obsession with personal privacy with Chinese internet users.  I would assume that not only are Chinese internet users more biased towards well-educated, fairly well-off people than the US online population is, but they also fear actions from their governments more, based on the government actively monitoring what they might post online.  This would not change the fact that Chinese are highly social, are very well-connected, and indeed are even far more comfortable meeting strangers online than Americans, whose friend networks are primarily comprised of people they know in person.

And contrast it with Russians, who not only may fear repression by their government for speaking out, but are also less social than Brazil and India.

India could be seen as both highly social and also not afraid of government action.  And Brazil would be highly social (Gaurav calls Indians and Brazilians “hyper-social”), but Brazilians seem somewhat afraid of government action (see their recent wiretapping scandals).

Personal and Political Privacy

Hypothesis Model: Personal and Political Privacy

If these generalizations (and I realize they are highly generalized!) hold, then that would put Brazil and China in the same quadrant, but obviously at different degrees.

Moving Forward

This model seems to present a lot fewer contradictions for me, but I do not want this to seem like blatant stereotypes.  The model still leaves a lot of questions.

To what degree are Brazilians afraid of their government?  They have had a lot of eavesdropping scandals, but to what degree does the individual care?

Why are Russians seen as being less personally open?

Is there any hard data on any of this?

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Ben Turner,BRIC,Culture,Privacy,Theory

Oct 30 2008

World Map of Flickr Privacy Settings

by at 2:14 am

World Map of Flickr Privacy Settings

TechCrunch and ReadWriteWeb have written about a slide shared by Yahoo!’s Principal Research Scientist Elizabeth Churchill on geographical locations where Flickr users are more likely to post their photos with privacy settings (red) or use the default public setting (green). The sample set was 1 million Flickr users who self-reported their locations, in 2005.

Neither Michael Arrington nor Marshall Kirkpatrick share any details of the methodology behind the map, but a quick Google search led me to the presentation from which this slide seems to be taken: ‘Sharing Preferences and Privacy Cultures‘. The presentation itself is based on a paper by Elizabeth Churchill and Shyong K. Lam titled ‘The Social Web: Global Village or Private Cliques?’ The paper is behind a firewall but the presentation gives some more data about the research —

– More than 90% of users younger than 25 post their photos as public. In the 25 to 40 age group, public photo sharing behavior drops, almost in s straight line, to 80% and goes as low as 70% for users in their late 50s and early 60s.

– Public photo sharing behavior follows a S curve when mapped against the number of contacts: it first decreases between 0 to 10 contacts, then increases with the number of contacts to go beyond 90% for more than 30 odd contacts.

– In the world map itself, there are at least five gradations from green to red. It seems that pure red means that about 70% of the users share their photos publicly whereas green means that about 90% of the users share their photos publicly. Since no information is available for the methodology behind the world map, I can only conclude that users in America, Brazil and Russia have a higher tendency to share their photos publicly than users in India, China or Europe.

The conclusion that Indians are more concerned about online privacy than Brazilians and Americans further complicates my research on attitudes towards online privacy in BRIC countries. Another research by Synovate showed that Brazilians and Americans are more concerned about online privacy than Indians, whereas my own understanding is that both Brazilians and Indians are much less concerned about online privacy than Americans.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Brazil,BRIC,China,Gaurav Mishra,India,Privacy,Russia,Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Oct 22 2008

Social Network World Map: Why Do Indians & Brazilians Love Orkut?

by at 2:18 pm

Here’s the latest world map of social networks based on Alexa data (via Oxyweb) —

World Map of Social Networks 2008

— and Indian and Brazil are the only two countries in the world where Orkut is the most popular social network.

I have often wondered what joins Brazilians and Indians in their love for Orkut. The answer is a combination of serendipity, first mover advantage, faster loading time, simplicity of the name, similarity of the name to Hindi/ Portuguese sounds, simplicity of the user interface, and association with the Google brand name, but the most powerful reason is the lax attitude towards privacy common to Indians and Brazilians. Continue Reading »

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Brazil,Gaurav Mishra,India,Privacy,Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Oct 12 2008

Modeling Transparency, Openness, and Privacy

by at 11:22 am

Since I am specifically studying what the internet will look like within the BRIC countries in terms of privacy, openness, and transparency, I thought it would be best to lay out a matrix of those three phases plotted versus five key social spheres, which maybe I could call “accountability arenas”.  Since there’s no good way to insert a matrix here without using SlideShare or an image, I’ll just list the results here:

Privacy

  • Personal: Libertarianism, isolationism, anonymity
  • Sexual: Don’t ask, don’t tell
  • Health: Non-contagion/non-preventative care
  • Financial: Shadow market pools, corruption
  • Political: Weak communities, divided citizens, big money interests, oligarchy

Continue Reading »

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Ben Turner,Privacy | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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