Privacy Self-Help Efforts

A recent post of mine focuses on our tendency to underestimate privacy risks.  Our failure to grasp the privacy implications of the information age may be due to optimism bias.  Like other areas of life, people de-emphasize risk and overemphasize positive outcomes.  Thus, we may tend to think the best of others’ intentions and potential uses of personal information, whether friends or e-commerce providers. People may over share because they assume that everyone will see their information as they do — i.e., in the best possible light.

But this is not to say that individuals ought to give up trying to protect their privacy.  As Michael Zimmer notes, NYU has an industrious Privacy Research Group with students, professors, and industry professionals aiming to advance privacy interests in the digital age.  Recently, two members of the NYU Privacy Research Group, Jaime Madell and Ian Spiro, launched PostPref, a Facebook application that helps users protect the privacy of their photos.  PostPref aims to remedy the lack of context on online social networks, the architectures of which tend to weaken norms of information flow by forcing the “binary” (private vs. non-private) categorization of shared information.  It is a photo watermarking tool that allows users to quickly and intuitively label their photos so that others know whether they should feel free to redistribute the photos.  Of course, as my prior post notes, people with access to a person’s photographs can ignore his or her instructions.  PostPref nonetheless represents a step forward in empowering Facebook users interested in protecting their privacy.

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