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Working Paper of 19 April 2012
Roger Clarke **
© Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, 2012
Available under an AEShareNet licence or a Creative Commons licence.
This document is at http://www.rogerclarke.com/DV/SMTD.html
Social media services offer users tools for interaction, publishing and sharing, but in return demand exposure of users' selves and of the members of their social networks. The Terms of Service imposed are uniformly privacy-hostile. The practice of social media exhibits a great many distrust influencers, and some are sufficiently strong that they constitute distrust drivers. The analysis reported in this paper leads to constructive suggestions for those social media designers that seek to overcome user distrust and even to actively inculcate user trust. Opportunities are identified for research that will inform and assist in the articulation of such designs.
Social media is a collective term for a range of services that support users in exhchanging content and pointers to content, but in ways that are advantageous to the service-provider. Some social media services have proven to be short-lived fads. Some appear to be instances of longer-lived genres, although, even in these cases, waves of specific services have been crashing over one another in quick succession. Some aspects may mature into long-term features of future services, because they satisfy a deeper human need rather than just a fashion-driven desire. At any given time, which services belong in which of those categories is hotly-debated and highly unclear. During 2005-15, social media has been a cauldron of innovation and early death.
Some social media services are renewing the philosophy of excitement that preceded the dot.com boom c. 2000, and have no discernible business model beyond the presumption that 'there must be a way to monetise this somehow'. Other services, however, are predicated on the propositions that 'you will find something interesting here' is a self-fulfilling prophecy, that the people who come can be enticed into contributing 'something interesting', and that they and the people who come after them can be enticed to click on targeted advertisements. The targeting is based on the profile-data that users have supplied, the content they have donated, their online behaviour while using the service, and in some cases their online behaviour more generally.
A proportion of users understand that they are being exploited by social media service providers. The boldness and even arrogance of many of those providers has given rise to a growing body of utterances by influential commentators, which has caused a lot more users to become aware of the extent of the exploitation. Consumer and privacy concerns are legion, and are giving rise to doubts about whether sufficient trust exists for the recent momentum in social media usage to be sustained.
This paper analyses the privacy aspects of social media. It commences by examining the broad notion of trust, critiques conventional approaches to the concept, and proposes an alternative framework. The term 'social media' was coined within the consumer marketing industry in order to cluster together a wide array of services. To undertake reasoned analysis, it is necessary to impose some order on the social media chaos. Privacy concerns are then identified, generally, and in the specific context of social media. This enables constructive proposals to be developed for addressing privacy problems, to the benefit of consumers and service-providers alike. Research opportunities arising from the analysis are identified.
This section reviews the notion of trust, in order to provide a foundation for the analysis of privacy aspects of social media. In both the academic and business literatures, the focus has been almost entirely on the positive notion of trust, frequently to the complete exclusion of the negative notion of distrust. It is argued here that both concepts must be appreciated. A framework and definitions are proposed that enable the varying impacts of trust-relevant factors to be recognised and evaluated.
Trust is commonly associated with a state of willingness to expose oneself to risks. Trust originates in family and social settings, and is associated with cultural affinities and inter-dependencies. The following is proposed as an operational definition relevant to the contexts addressed in this paper (Clarke 2002a, 2002b):
Trust is confident reliance by one party on the behaviour of other parties
The importance of trust varies a great deal, depending on the context. Key factors include the extent of the risk exposure, the elapsed time during which the exposure exists, and whether insurance is available, affordable and effective. Trust is most critical where a party has little knowledge of the other party, or far less power than the other party.
The trust concept has been applied outside its original social setting. Of relevance to the present paper, it is much-used in economic contexts, and in particular in relation to transactions conducted electronically between businesses and consumers, popularly referred to as B2C eCommerce. The B2C eCommerce literature contains a great many papers which refer to trust, and which investigate very specific aspects of it. This paper is primarily concerned with factors that relate to the trustworthiness or otherwise of the counter-party to the transaction, rather than for example the quality of the tradeable item, its fit to the consumer's need, the delivery process, the infrastructure and institutions on which the conduct of the transaction depends, or the propensity of consumers to be trusting.
It is feasible for cultural affinities to be achieved in some B2C contexts. For example, consumers' dealings with cooperatives, such as credit unions / Kreditgenossenschaften, may achieve this, because 'they are us'. On the other hand, it is infeasible for for-profit corporations to achieve anything more than an ersatz form of trust with their customers, because corporations law demands that priority be given to the interests of the corporation above all other interests.
The bases on which a proxy for positive trust can be established in B2C eCommerce were analysed in Clarke (2002a). Trust may arise from a direct relationship between the parties (such as a contract, or prior transactions); or from experience (such as a prior transaction, a trial transaction, or vicarious experience). When such relatively strong sources of trust are unavailable, it may be necessary to rely on 'referred trust', such as 'word-of-mouth', reputation, or delegated contractual arrangements. Mere brandnames are a synthetic and ineffective basis for trust. The weakest of all forms is meta-brands, such as 'seals of approval' signifying some form of accreditation by organisations that are no better-known than the company that they purport to be attesting to (Clarke 2001).
Where the market power of the parties to a transaction is reasonably balanced, the interests of both parties may be reflected in the terms of contracts that they enter into. This is seldom the case with B2C commerce generally, however, nor B2C eCommerce in particular. It is theoretically feasible for consumers to achieve sufficient market power to ensure balanced contract terms, e.g. through amalgamation of their individual buying-power, or through consumer rights legislation. In practice, however, such circumstances seldom arise.
Many recent treatments of trust in B2C eCommerce adopt the postulates of Mayer et al. (1995), to the effect that the main attributes underlying a party's trustworthiness are ability, integrity and benevolence - to which has later been added web-site quality. See for example Lee & Turban (2001) and Salo & Karjaluoto (2007). However, it appears unlikely that a body of theory based on the assumption of altruistic behaviour by for-profit organisations is capable of delivering much of value. In practice, consumer marketing corporations seek to achieve trust by contriving the appearance of cultural affinities. One such means is the offering of economic benefits to frequent buyers, but projecting the benefits using not an economic term but rather one that invokes social factors: 'loyalty programs'. Another approach is to use advertising, advertorials and promotional activities to project socially positive imagery onto a brandname and logo. To be relevant to the practice of social media, research needs to be based on models that reflect realities, rather than embody imaginary constructs such as 'corporate benevolence'.
During the twentieth century's 'mass marketing' and 'direct marketing' eras, consumer marketing corporations were well-served by the conceptualisation of consumer as prey. That stance continued to be applied when B2C eCommerce emerged during the second half of the 1990s. That the old attitude fitted poorly to the new context was evidenced by the succession of failed initiatives documented in Clarke (1999). These included billboards on the information superhighway (1994-95), closed electronic communities (1995-97), push technologies (1996-98), spam (1996-), infomediaries (1996-99), portals (1998-2000) and surreptitious data capture (1999-). Habits die hard, however, and to a considerable extent consumers are still being treated as quarry by consumer marketers. It is therefore necessary to have terms that refer to the opposite of trust.
The convention has been to assume that trust is either present, or it is not, and hence:
Lack of Trust is the absence, or inadequacy, of confidence by one party in the reliability of the behaviour of other parties
This alone is inadequate, however, because it fails to account for circumstances in which, rather than there being either a positive feeling or an absence of it, there is instead a negative element present. This author accordingly proposes the following additional term and definition.
Distrust is the the active belief by one party that the behaviour of other parties is not reliable
There are few treatments of distrust in the B2C eCommerce literature, but see McKnight & Chervany (2001a, 2001b, 2006).
One further concept is needed, in order to account for the exercise of market power in B2C eCommerce. Most such business is subject to Terms of Service imposed by merchants. These embody considerable advantages to the companies and few for consumers. The Terms imposed by social media companies are among the most extreme seen in B2C eCommerce (Clarke 2008a, 2011). In such circumstances, there is no trust grounded in cultural affinity. The consumer may have a choice of merchants, but their Terms are uniformly consumer-hostile. Hence a separate term is proposed, to refer to a degraded form of trust:
Forced Trust is hope held by one party that the behaviour of other parties will be reliable, despite the absence of important trust factors
The concepts presented in the previous sub-section provide a basis for developing insights into privacy problems and their solutions. In order to operationalise the concepts, however, it is necessary to distinguish several different categories of trust factor.
The definitions in Exhibit 1 use the generic terms 'party' and 'conduct of a transaction', in order to provide broad scope. They encompass both social and economic transactions, and both natural persons as parties - variously in social roles, as consumers, as prosumers, and as producers - and legal persons, including social not-for-profit associations, economic not-for-profits such as charities, for-profit corporations, and government agencies.
A Trust Influencer is a factor that has a positive influence on the likelihood of a party conducting a transaction
A Distrust Influencer is a factor that has a negative influence on the likelihood of a party conducting a transaction
A Trust Driver is a factor that has such a strong positive influence on the likelihood of a party conducting a transaction that it determines the outcome
A Distrust Driver is a factor that has such a strong negative influence on the likelihood of a party conducting a transaction that it determines the outcome
A Driver is a factor that, alone, is sufficient to determine an adoption / non-adoption decision. This is distinct from the 'straw that broke the camel's back' phenomenon. In that case, the most recent Influencer causes a threshold to be reached, but only by adding its weight to other, pre-existing Influencers.
In Exhibit 2, the relationships among the concepts are depicted in the mnemonic form of a see-saw, and are supplemented by commonly used terms associated with each category.
Some trust factors are applicable to consumers generally, and hence the distinctions can be applied to an aggregate analysis of the market for a particular tradeable item or class of items. Attitudes to many factors vary among consumers, however; and hence the framework can be usefully applied at the most granular level, to individual decisions by individual consumers. For many purposes, an effective compromise is likely to be achieved by identifying consumer segments, and conducting analyses from the perspective of each segment. Hence a driver is likely to be described in conditional terms, such as 'for consumers who are risk-averse, ...', 'for 'consumers who live outside major population centres, ...', and 'for consumers who are seeking a product for the long term, ...'.
The commercial aspects of the relationship between merchant and consumer offer many examples of each category of trust factor. Distrust Drivers include proven incapacity of the merchant to deliver, such as insolvency. On the other hand, low cost combined with functional superiority represents a Trust Driver. Non-return policies are usually a Distrust Influencer rather than a Distrust Driver, whereas 'return within 7 days for a full refund' is likely to be a Trust Influencer. Merchants naturally play on human frailties when they create compulsion factors, through such devices as '50% discount, for today only'.
Beyond commercial aspects, other clusters of trust factors include the quality, reliability and safety of the tradeable item, its fit to the consumer's circumstances and needs, and privacy. This paper is concerned with the last of these.
The 'social media' meme appears to have emerged in conjunction with the 'Web 2.0' and 'social networking' notions, during 2004-05 (O'Reilly 2005). As shown by Clarke (2008b), there was little terminological clarity or coherence during the first several years of discussion of the approaches adopted by marketers during this period.
Even in 2010, the thinking about what social media encompassed remained somewhat rubbery, e.g. "Social Media is a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content" (Kaplan & Haenlein 2010, p.61). Those authors did, however, apply theories in the field of media research (social presence, media richness) and social processes (self-presentation, self-disclosure), in order to propose the classification scheme in Exhibit 3.
The business models of social media service-providers are predicated on re-visits being motivated by voyuerism, and hence are dependent on individuals being stimulated to self-expose, and to expose others. For other consumer marketing companies, the need is to convey corporate image and messages, shape consumer opinions, and build purchase momentum. The Kaplan & Haenlein classification scheme is a good fit to the perspectives of both kinds of corporations. On the other hand, through its commitment to the 'consumer as prey' tradition, it fails to reflect the interests of the users who social media exploit.
A classification scheme was accordingly sought that better reflects the interests of the users of social media. No appropriate model came to light in the literature. The approach adopted was therefore to search for and inspect lists of services described as social media, and identify their key characteristics from a user's perspective. During the process, reference was made to a related scheme developed 18 years earlier and reproduced in Appendix 1. This included a large number of the concepts evident in the much-celebrated 'social media' cluster. Ideas that were not evident at that time were glogs, wikis, crowdsourcing, folksonomies, indicator-sharing, high-quality animation, and the voyeurism-based business model. The resulting classification scheme, depicted in Exhibit 4, is based on three factors: the cardinality of the relationship, whether the relationship is one-way or two-way, and the nature of the content.
Within each of the major categories, a variety of tools are available. These differ in terms of the a/synchronicity of the communications, the nature of the content that they support (text, sound, image and/or video), and the key functionality that they offer. Some are inter-personal messaging tools, whereas others are content-publishing tools (many of which also offer content-preparation functionality). Some are applications of 'crowdsourcing' (Howe 2006), enabling large-scale aggregation of, in some cases, substantial content (e.g. Wikipedia), but in many cases much more limited signals such as a declaration of approval or disapproval, or an action in an online game.
Exhibits 5A, 5B and 5C present the currently-available service-genres in the approximately chronological order in which they emerged.
Throughout the network-based telecommunications era, each person's network address has always been visible, as a necessary element of the services. Subsequently, each person's physical address, or geo-location, has progressively become available, and in some cases (e.g. cellular phones) is intrinsic to the operation of the networking service. Location-based services can be valuable to individuals, e.g. for navigation assistance and in emergencies. Some novelty apps have attracted attention, such as notification services when someone in the person's address-book is in their vicinity. The primary use of geo-location, however, is in consumer marketing, and a further major application of person-location and tracking capabilities is law enforcement and national security (Clarke 1999b, Clarke & Wigan 2011).
Social media are adapting to take advantage of geo-location, e.g. Google Latitude. Since the late 2000s, 'born mobile' entrants have been challenging established players by having geo-location intrinsic to their services and small-display-areas as their native form (such as Foursquare. Gowalla, on the other hand, was purchased by Facebook and closed down).
This section applies well-established privacy notions to social media. The purpose is to enable judgements to be made about the extent to which various privacy factors are trust or distrust drivers or influencers.
Privacy is a multi-dimensional construct rather than a concept, and hence definitions are inevitably contentious. Many of the conventional approaches are unrealistic, serve the needs of powerful organisations rather than those of individuals, or are of limited value as a means of guiding operational decisions. The approach adopted here is to adopt a definition of privacy as an interest, to retain its positioning as a human right, to reject the attempts by business interests to reduce it to a mere economic right, and to provide a supplement to the basic definition.
The following definition is of long standing (Morison 1973, Clarke 1996, 1997, 2006a):
Privacy is the interest that individuals have in sustaining a 'personal space', free from interference by other people and organisations
A weakness in discussions of privacy on both sides of the Atlantic is the limitation of the scope to data protection / Datenschutz. It is vital to recognise that privacy is a far broader notion than that. The 4-dimensional scheme below has been in consistent use since Clarke (1996, 1997). A related taxonomy, oriented towards legal protections rather than the interests of the person, is in Solove (2006):
Underpinning the dramatic escalation of privacy threats since about 1995 has been greatly intensified opposition by organisations to anonymity and even pseudonymity, and greatly increased demands for all acts by all individuals to be associated with the individual's 'real identity'.
At an early stage, commentators identified substantial privacy threats inherent in Web 2.0, social networking services and social media generally (e.g. Harris 2006, Barnes 2006, Clarke 2008b). Although privacy threats arise in relation to all categories of social media, social networking services (SNS) are particularly rich both in inherent risks and in aggressive behaviour by service-providers. This section accordingly pays particular attention to SNS.
One of the earliest SNS, Plaxo, was subjected to criticism at the time of its launch (Clarke 2004). Google had two failures before Google+ - Orkut and Buzz - and all three have been roundly criticised for their serious hostility to the privacy of users and people exposed by their users (e.g. Helft 2010, Waugh 2012, Bell 2012). However, it is difficult not to focus on Facebook, not so much because it has dominated many national markets for SNS for several years, but rather because it has done so much to test the boundaries of privacy abuse. Summaries of its behaviour are in Bankston (2009), Opsahl (2010), NYT (2010), McKeon (2010), BBC (2011).
After 5 years of bad behaviour by Facebook, Opsahl (2010) summarised the situation as follows: "When [Facebook] started, it was a private space for communication with a group of your choice. Soon, it transformed into a platform where much of your information is public by default. Today, it has become a platform where you have no choice but to make certain information public, and this public information may be shared by Facebook with its partner websites and used to target ads". The widespread publication of several epithets allegedly uttered by Facebook's CEO Zuckerberg, have reinforced the impression of exploitation, particularly "The default is social" and "They 'trust me'. Dumb f..ks".
The conclusion reached in 2012 by a proponent of social media was even more damning: "[Social networking services] profit primarily by using heretofore private information it has collected about you to target advertising. And Zuckerberg has repeatedly made sudden, sometimes ill conceived and often poorly communicated policy changes that resulted in once-private personal information becoming instantly and publicly accessible. As a result, once-latent concerns over privacy, power and profit have bubbled up and led both domestic and international regulatory agencies to scrutinize the company more closely ... The high-handed manner in which members' personal information has been treated, the lack of consultation or even communication with them beforehand, Facebook's growing domination of the entire social networking sphere, Zuckerberg's constant and very public declarations of the death of privacy and his seeming imposition of new social norms all feed growing fears that he and Facebook itself simply can not be trusted" (O'Connor 2012).
A brief review of the three broad categories of social media identified earlier provides a sense of the privacy issues. In the case of Interaction tools, users generally assume that conversations are private, and in some cases are subject to non-disclosure conventions such as, in government parlance, 'under Chatham House Rules'. However, social media service-providers sit between the conversation-partners and in many cases store the conversation - thereby converting ephemeral communications into archived statements - and give themselves the right to exploit the contents. Moreover, service-providers strive to keep the messaging flows internal, and hence exploitable by and only by that company, rather than enabling their users to take advantage of external messaging services such as email.
Broadcasting, by its nature, involves the publication of content. Privacy concerns still arise, however, in several ways. SNS seek to capture 'wall-postings' and the efforts of content communities, and encourage and in some cases even enforce self-exposure of profile data. Service-providers may intrude into users' personal space by monitoring content with a view to punishing or discriminating against individuals who receive particular broadcasts, e.g. because the content is in breach of criminal or civil law, is against the interests of the service-provider, or is in some manner in breach of good taste. The primary concern, however, is that the individual who initiates the broadcast may not be able to protect their identity. This is important where the views may be unpopular with some organisations or individuals, particularly where those organisations or individuals may represent a threat to the person's safety. It is vital to society that 'whistleblowing' be possible. There are contrary public interests, in particular that individuals who commit serious breaches such as unjustified disclosure of sensitive information, intentionally harmful misrepresentation, and incitement to violence, be able to be held accountable for their actions. That justifies the establishment of carefully constructed forms of strong pseudonymity; but it does not justify an infrastructure that imposes on all users the requirement to disclose, and perhaps openly publish, their 'real identity'.
Sharing, in one of its forms, overlaps with Broadcasting, but it is oriented towards collaborative rather than sole-sourced content. Even indicator-sharing may generate some privacy risk for individuals, such as the casting of a vote in a particular direction on some topic that attracts opprobrium (e.g. paedophilia, racism or the holocaust, but also criticisms of a repressive regime). Similarly, participation in gaming may raise privacy issues where the nature of the game, or actions taken while playing it, may be in breach of local laws or conventions.
A more substantial catalogue of privacy concerns is needed, in order to support deeper analysis of privacy as a trust factor. Exhibits 6A-6D were developed by reviewing media reports over the period 2005-11, and identifying and classifying features of social media services generally, but particularly of SNS, and especially Facebook and Google's successive offerings.
This sub-section reviews the wide array of privacy-abusive aspects of social media catalogued in Exhibits 6A-6D, in order to identify examples of distrust drivers and influencers.
For some consumer segments, privacy-hostile aspects of social media design are very likely to be outright barriers to their adoption and use. One segment is people whose safety is likely to be threatened by exposure, variously of their identity, their location, or sensitive information about them. Another is people who place very high value on their privacy, preferring (for any of a variety of reasons) to stay well out of the public eye.
A comprehensive analysis of the categories of 'persons at risk' is in GFW (2011).
People in these segments need to avoid social media that have the following features:
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Use 'forced trust' here
The previous sub-section considered the many negative aspects. The question arises as to whether privacy aspects of social media catalogued in Exhibits 6A-6D also embody the scope for positive trust drivers and influencers.
Particularly for consumer segments that are subject to safety threats or that value their privacy highly, the following features may act as drivers of trust, particularly where they exist in combination:
[CHECK THE CATALOGUE FOR OTHER INFORMATIVE EXAMPLES]
[CHECK THE LITERATURE FOR EVIDENCE OF TRUST DRIVERS]
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[CHECK THE LITERATURE FOR EVIDENCE OF TRUST INFLUENCERS]
The abuse of market power by social media service-providers represents justification, even among the more conservative form of economics-driven policy analyst, for intervention in order to address the over-grazing of the 'personal data commons'. The analysis conducted in this paper therefore has significant implications for policy-makers.
The analyis also has important strategic implications for social media service-providers. The author has long argued that privacy is a strategic factor for both corporations and government agencies (Clarke 1996, 2006b). See also Peppers & Rogers (1993), Levine et al. (1999) and Cavoukian & Hamilton (2002). In Clarke (2008a), it was suggested that the long delay in the emergence of the 'prosumer' was now over. That term was coined by Toffler in 1980, to refer to a phenomenon he had presaged 10 years earlier (Toffler 1970 pp. 240-258; Toffler 1980 pp. 275-299, 355-356, 366, 397-399). The concept was revisited in Tapscott & Williams (2006). A prosumer is a consumer who is proactive (e.g. is demanding, and expects interactivity with the producer) and/or a producer as well as a consumer (e.g. expects to be able to exploit digital content for mashups). To the extent that a sufficient proportion of consumers do indeed mature into prosumers, consumer dissatisfaction with untrustworthy service-providers can be expected to rise, and to influence consumers' choices.
A number of authors have also addressed the question of how to protect privacy in location-based services (e.g. Ginger et al. 2003, Bettini et al. 2005, Hu & Wang 2005, Bettini et al. 2009). This section utilises the preceding analysis in order to provide pointers towards the extension of that guidance into the social media space.
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The analysis conducted in this paper readily gives rise to a number of research questions. For example:
"In December 2008, the fast food giant developed a Facebook application which gave users a free Whopper sandwich for every 10 friends they deleted from their Facebook network. The campaign was adopted by over 20,000 users, resulting in the sacrificing of 233,906 friends in exchange for free burgers. Only one month later, in January 2009, Facebook shut down Whopper Sacrifice, citing prvacy concerns. Who would have thought that the price of a friendship is less than $2 a dozen?" (Kaplan & Haenlein 2010, p.67). So the presumption that people sell their privacy very cheaply may have a corollary - that people's privacy can be bought very cheaply as well.
Such topics are susceptible to a wide range of research techniques (Galliers 1992, Clarke 2001b, Chen & Hirschheim 2004). Surveys deliver 'convenience data' of limited relevance, testing what people say they do - and all too often merely what they say they think. Other techniques hold much more promise as means of addressing the research questions identified above. In particular:
The first decade of Web 2.0-inspired social media services have been highly exploitative of users. There are signs that consumer trust is declining and consumer distrust is increasing. This paper has presented an analysis of privacy factors, culminating in constructive suggestions about how to design privacy-respectful and hence trustworthy social media services, and how to conduct research to assist in the articulation of such services.
Extract from Clarke (1994)
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This paper has been in gestation since 1999. Finally putting fingers to keyboard was stimulated by an invitation from Hans Christian Juul to visit Roskilde University in June 2012, and present a seminar on privacy, trust and user-involvement, stressing the research perspective.
Roger Clarke is Principal of Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, Canberra. He is also a Visiting Professor in the Cyberspace Law & Policy Centre at the University of N.S.W., and a Visiting Professor in the Research School of Computer Science at the Australian National University.
The content and infrastructure for these community service pages are provided by Roger Clarke through his consultancy company, Xamax.
From the site's beginnings in August 1994 until February 2009, the infrastructure was provided by the Australian National University. During that time, the site accumulated close to 30 million hits. It passed 40 million by the end of 2012.
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