Privacy and Social Networks

ATM Privacy Area, by Cackhanded. CC via FlickrMark Ury has a great post on Privacy at his blog The Restless Mind. As I said in my comment on his Blog, I’d like to make an observation about why managing privacy (and other rules of social etiquette) is even harder than it seems.

Real social networks have actual humans as the end points in the graph. Complicated, technology independent humans. I have dozens, perhaps even hundreds of social networks I participate in, and each one has its own complex rules of etiquette and privacy, even when the membership of the network is mostly or even completely the same. In fact, it’s those rules that really define the network itself: the people I trust with my kids, the people I gossip with at work, or the group of cousins in my family that happen to be around the same age. Each of these is defined as much or more by what we do together (the “social grooming” as Robin Dunbar calls it), as by the membership, which may be mostly or even entirely the same. One reason for why these rules especially difficult to express in software is that these networks (especially the ones most established in my life) are typically multi-modal by nature. Take the network of “the people who love and care for my kids”, as an example: some are in FB, some are email-only, and some (like my Gramma) offline entirely. We humans are very typically very good at picking up on and managing these social “rules”, but often have difficulty migrating those rules to a new or unfamiliar modality of communication. As the number ways in which we can communicate with each other increases (more rapidly all the time, it seems), the harder it becomes to manage the complex social rules that govern human interactions.

Kinzin’s approach to this problem is to build what we call “Virtual Private Social Networks”. You decide on the rules and membership of the network, independent of the communications technology. This is obviously easier with smaller networks, and where the level of trust and familiarity is high, so that’s where we’ve focused ourselves. These Are My Kids lets a network of close friends and family share information about the family’s kids. The rules for privacy are set by the parents, and the invited members of the network can use (nearly) any medium they like to access the network: Facebook, email, postal mail, etc. This way, busy parents can spend their time thinking about what it is they want to say, and not worrying about how or where to say it.

Teens and the Internet

The Pew Internet and American Life Project published a study of Teens and Social Media in late December, using data captured mostly in 2006 (so the stats on Facebook usage in particular are probably low). Great subtitle: “The use of social media gains a greater foothold in teen life as they embrace the conversational nature of interactive online media.”

Some quick hits:

  • 64% of online teens ages 12-17 have participated in content-creating activities on the internet, up from 57% of online teens in a similar survey at the end of 2004
  • 39% of online teens share their own artistic creations online, such as artwork, photos, stories, or videos, up from 33% in 2004.

  • Girls are more likely to Blog across all age groups. 35% of online girls blog, and even younger girls (32%) blog more than older boys (18%). Boys are more likely to use YouTube, and twice as likely as girls (19% vs 10%) to be posters of video content.
  • 55% of online teens ages 12-17 have created a profile on a social networking site such as Facebook or MySpace; 47% of online teens have uploaded photos where others can see them (remember this data is from 2006).
  • Most teens restrict access to their posted photos and videos (77% say most or sometimes)– at least some of the time. Adults, somewhat surprisingly, restrict access to the same content less often (58%). Maybe they don’t know where to find the privacy settings.
  • Posted photos or videos are the launchpad for conversation. Nearly nine in ten teens who post photos online (89%) say that people comment at least sometimes on the photos they post.
  • Phones are still prominent in teen social life. What Pew calls “Multi-channel teens” layer each new communications opportunity on top of pre-existing channels. These multi-channel teens are slightly more likely to use landlines “every day” than the broader group(39%/46%), and twice as likely to use cellphones(35%/70%), IM (28%/54%), SMS (27%/60%), and send messages over social networking sites(21%/47%). The use of email is interesting: 14% vs. 22% – both very low compared to the other forms of communication.

The whole study is worth a read. It’s short, but interesting.