Will Privacy Issues Hurt Facebook?

Question: Will concerns about privacy be the undoing of Facebook?

Clay Shirky:
No, I think Facebook is going to be fine. Facebook has a long history of planning a change in the service that’s good for them in some way or another, overstepping their bounds, apologizing and scaling back—but not scaling back to the point they were before the change.  In a way, Facebook now uses the overstep-apology-reaction pattern as a way of saying how far they can go at any given cultural moment. 

The other thing about Facebook is... Facebook is in a way our current target for our worries about privacy in exactly the same way the music industry obsessed about Napster, newspapers obsessed about Craig’s List... Which is to say the logic that Facebook is exposing is in many ways logic that’s implicit in the Internet itself—Facebook just happens to be its current corporate avatar.  But if Craig’s List had died out in 2005, it wouldn’t have helped the classified ad business much because somebody else would have figured it out and done it. 

So, it seems to be that a lot of the trouble that Facebook is in right now, is really people grappling with what the Internet means for privacy rather than Facebook. What I do think is that Facebook is probably close to the outer limit of what it can get away with in terms of privacy.  I wish, as many people do, that they were a better actor on the subject of privacy than they have been, but their business model’s pretty clearly: maximizing sharing, maximizing disclosure, maximizing number of Facebook URL’s in circulation on the open Internet.  I think that they will have to fight harder to get out from under the problems they’ve currently created.  But I don’t think any significant challenger to Facebook is going to arise in the next couple of years.  And however much bowing and scraping they have to do now, including possibly before a Congressional Committee, I don’t believe it’s going to clip their business much in the long term.

Recorded May 26, 2010
Interviewed by Victoria Brown

Mark Zuckerberg's company has a long history of intruding on users' privacy, apologizing, and then scaling back. But it never scales back all the way.

'Ghost forests' visible from space spread along the coast as sea levels rise

Seawater is raising salt levels in coastal woodlands along the entire Atlantic Coastal Plain, from Maine to Florida.

Photo by Anqi Lu on Unsplash
Surprising Science
Trekking out to my research sites near North Carolina's Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, I slog through knee-deep water on a section of trail that is completely submerged.
Keep reading Show less

Why professional soccer players choke during penalty kicks

A new study used functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to measure brain activity as inexperienced and experienced soccer players took penalty kicks.

Abbie Parr via Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • The new study is the first to use in-the-field imaging technology to measure brain activity as people delivered penalty kicks.
  • Participants were asked to kick a total of 15 penalty shots under three different scenarios, each designed to be increasingly stressful.
  • Kickers who missed shots showed higher activity in brain areas that were irrelevant to kicking a soccer ball, suggesting they were overthinking.
Keep reading Show less

A historian identifies the worst year in human history

A Harvard professor's study discovers the worst year to be alive.

Credit: Pieter Bruegel the Elder. (Museo del Prado).
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Harvard professor Michael McCormick argues the worst year to be alive was 536 AD.
  • The year was terrible due to cataclysmic eruptions that blocked out the sun and the spread of the plague.
  • 536 ushered in the coldest decade in thousands of years and started a century of economic devastation.
Keep reading Show less

Changing a brain to save a life: how far should rehabilitation go?

What's the difference between brainwashing and rehabilitation?

Credit: Roy Rochlin via Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • The book and movie, A Clockwork Orange, powerfully asks us to consider the murky lines between rehabilitation, brainwashing, and dehumanization.
  • There are a variety of ways, from hormonal treatment to surgical lobotomies, to force a person to be more law abiding, calm, or moral.
  • Is a world with less free will but also with less suffering one in which we would want to live?
Keep reading Show less