Internet Privacy and Web 2.0

2007 December 8
by Karen

The recent kerfluffle about Facebook’s beacon has gotten me thinking about Web 2.0 and privacy issues. Inherently Web 2.0 means putting more of yourself out there on the web. This is a necessary part of creating cohesive online social networks. So what is everyone up in arms about when it comes to Facebook’s beacon? Well to me there are two issues:

  1. People signed up for a service before beacon existed expecting and getting certain privacy rights only to have the rug pulled out from under them
  2. People can’t opt out of their data being used and collected (until very recently)

These two things have created a scenario where Facebook has inherently eroded the trust of their users.

Facebook should have mediated this issue by simply putting in place an opt out feature for users. (As of today it looks like Facebook has done the right thing and no private purchases made on other websites will be displayed publicly on Facebook “without users proactively consenting.” They’ll also give users a new option to permanently say no to this feature.) While some speculate as to whether or not this will impact the amount of data Facebook is able to collect, the truth of the matter is that many people will choose not to opt out. Furthermore by demonstrating Beacon’s benefits to the users, Facebook could mitigate the numbers of people who choose to opt out of the service.

Libraries can learn a great deal about user expectations and privacy by looking at the successes and failures of companies in the Web 2.0 space. The main lesson that can be taken away thus far is that privacy is not an all or nothing proposition for users. Users are willing to trade some privacy rights for an service which adds benefit for them. However, they want to make that choice themselves not have it made for them. To successfully implement the social networks and personalization that are hallmarks of Web 2.0 libraries need to give users choices about privacy and demonstrate the benefits to users of giving up small amounts of privacy to enhance the services libraries can provide.

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