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.

Where’s the Watchamacallit?

How do you search when you don’t know what to search for?  What keywords do you use when you don’t know which keywords will yield the best results?  Or in metaphorical terms, what do you use as bait when you don’t know what you’re fishing for?  I recently experienced this paradox firsthand.

Amazon has this great feature, called a Wish List.  You can add Amazon items to this list, as well as links to items on other websites or even a word or two that represents an idea for an item.  Gift-givers can also indicate they have bought the item on the list so the gift-receiver doesn’t end up with, say, 10 copies of the new Taylor Swift album.  Therefore, Amazon is excellent for the rapidly approaching Christmas holiday — instead of my dad asking me what I want for Christmas, he told me I needed to update my Amazon Wish List (my old one from graduation was still up).

Thus, I began a search of epic proportions, a journey that lasted longer than all three Lord of the Rings movies combined — spaced out over the course of a week, obviously.  I am a grad student, after all.  But what was my Holy Grail, you ask?  This:

That low, steady hum you hear is angels singing.

That low, steady hum you hear is angels singing.


This is the watch to put all others to shame.  It’s water resistant; has three different dials to tell military time, the date, and the day; and when you press a knob on the side, the face lights up.  It was this last feature that was the cause of my search trouble.  The watch I currently have (and have had for at least a decade, if not longer) is a Timex that has taken a few too many lickings, apparently, as it eats up batteries like Alice Cooper goes through eyeliner.

alice cooper

Pictured: a simile

Hence, my Christmas wish for a new watch.  I wanted one with all the functions of my Timex — it’s water resistant, gives the date, and the face glows when the knob is pressed.  “Water resistant” and “date” are easy enough keywords to feed Amazon’s search engine, but that last feature…  Timex calls it an Indiglo© function. But, notice that “c” with a circle around it?  Yeah, that means Timex is literally the only company that uses the word “Indiglo” to refer to a glowing dial — and it just so happened that I didn’t like any of the Timex watches for one reason or another.  So my problem was, HOW DO I SEARCH FOR SOMETHING I HAVE NO NAME FOR???  I tried everything I could think of: glowing dial, light-up face, glow-in-the-dark, and every other variation I can’t currently recall (my brain blocked out the traumatic details of the irksome search).  It was only in the midst of one such fruitless search that I stumbled upon the word that proved to be my salvation:


This was the keyword I had needed all along!  I typed in my requisite features and added my new favorite word to the Amazon search bar, and VOILA!  Magic!  This beauty appeared from the mists of all the other inferior wrist watches!

So glorious, it deserves another look.

So glorious, it deserves another look.

That one word made all the difference in my search.  Because I didn’t know how to describe this one thing I wanted to find, I was stymied.  Language is truly mightier than a thousand blades —  you can’t spell “swords” without “words,”  and apparently, you can’t search for a watch with a glowing dial without the word “luminous.”