Users’ Perceptions of Privacy Rights on Facebook

In lieu of class this week, we are to discuss our ongoing research projects, the first draft of which will be due in a week (yikes!!).  My project started off as a theoretically based paper on applying the Fourth Amendment, the Electronic Communications Protection Act (ECPA), and some specific court cases (e.g. Katz v. US) to social media privacy issues.  However, I recently (very recently), decided to alter the course of my project and include an online survey asking Facebook users what they think about their online privacy rights.  Specifically, I want to find out what Facebook users know about the consequences of clicking that “Sign Up” button and if having this information would make them think twice about keeping their Facebook account.


Sneaky, sneaky Facebook

I don’t want to give too many more details because I intend to beg anyone reading this to take my survey, and bias is an unfortunate thing in research.   So instead, I want to briefly discuss the idea that spawned my interest in this project — so much interest, in fact, that the desire to write this paper is why I took this Social Internet class.

It all began with a phone booth.

phone booth

Here we see the proud phone booth in its natural habitat, which has been destroyed in later years by the emergence of a more dominant creature, the cellularus phonus.

How does this now-extinct glass box relate to modern technology? Well, the United States Supreme Court ruled that if it was private enough for Superman to use as a changing room, then it was private enough to protect a bookie’s phone conversation.  … Or something like that.

In actuality, the story goes that some feds planted a bug on the inside wall of the phone booth a local bookie used to make and take bets in order to catch him in the act.  The bookie, by the name of Katz, was caught red-handed and sentenced to jail time.  On appeal, however, the highest court in the country ruled that, because Katz had closed the door to the phone booth, he had a reasonable expectation of privacy inside its walls, thereby making the bug illegal and Katz’s conviction unlawful.

For me, this ruling begged the question: does taking steps to ensure your privacy give you a reasonable expectation of it, regardless of how public the domain?  Specifically, does enabling your privacy settings on Facebook to exclude everyone but a small group of people equate to a reasonable expectation of privacy?

I thought it was an intriguing concept and wanted to explore it further.  I actually have found an answer to that last question, but why give away spoilers?  I will be presenting my findings in class, and I will follow up with a blog once the project is done.  So, stay tuned — and in the meantime, you can take my survey*! 🙂


*The survey has been closed.

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