Privacy in the Age of Facebook: Discourse, Architecture, Consequences

[Edit 23 May 2014] As of May 2014, my PhD was the 6th most downloaded thesis of all time from Curtin Library’s eSpace.

In July, my PhD thesis passed examination. Today, after making the required (thankfully minor) revisions, I submitted the final version to my university!

Download [pdf] or access via Curtin Library repository (eSpace)

Raynes-Goldie, K. (2012). Privacy in the Age of Facebook: Discourse, Architecture, Consequences. PhD. Curtin University, Perth, Australia.

Most academic and journalistic discussions of privacy on Facebook have centred on users, rather than the company behind the site. The result is an overwhelming focus on the perceived shortcomings of users with respect to irresponsible privacy behaviours, rather than an examination of the potential role that Facebook Inc. may have in encouraging such behaviours. Aiming to counterbalance this common technologically deterministic perspective, this thesis deploys a multi-layered ethnographic approach in service of a deep and nuanced analysis of privacy on Facebook. This approach not only looks at both the users and creators of Facebook, it examines Facebook Inc. in the context of historical, cultural and discursive perspectives. Specifically, this thesis details how the company’s privacy policy and design decisions are guided not simply by profit, but by a belief system which which encourages “radical transparency” (Kirkpatrick, 2010) and is at odds with conventional understandings of privacy. In turn, drawing on Fiske’s model of popular culture, users “make do” with the limited privacy choices afforded them by the site, while at the same time attempting to maximise its social utility. As this dynamic demonstrates, Facebook Inc. plays a critical, yet often overlooked role in shaping privacy norms and behaviours through site policies and architecture. Taken together, the layers of this thesis provide greater insight into user behaviour with respect to privacy, and, more broadly, demonstrate the importance of including critical analyses of social media companies in examinations of privacy culture.

Stuff which might be useful for Facebook, social media & privacy researchers

  • In Chapters 3 and 8, I expand on my definition and application of social privacy as distinct from institutional privacy (which I first wrote about in in 2010) — that is, the management of information and disclosure about oneself in the context of one’s friends, acquaintances, co-workers — as an important concept in understanding privacy behaviours and attitudes on Facebook.
  • In Chapters 5, 6 and 7, I provide the origins, manifestations and consequences of the philosophy of Facebook — or what I call “radically transparent sociality,” which essentially explain why Facebook doesn’t want to protect the privacy of its users.
  • Chapter 4 provides a comprehensive chronological overview of Facebook’s history and evolution from 2004 until 2011.
  • Throughout the thesis, particularly in Chapter 8, I show how the idea that youth are privacy unconcerned (sometimes described as the “privacy paradox“) is an oversimplification, and is largely inaccurate.
Privacy in the Age of Facebook: Discourse, Architecture, Consequences

7 Responses

  1. Hello Kate,
    I just want to say a very big ‘Well done!’ and an even bigger thank you for publishing your thesis here. I am excited just reading down through the table of contents!
    Anne Marie

    Anne Marie Cunningham September 19, 2012 at 6:36 am #
  2. Kate! Just want to say so awesome that you finished! Yayyyyyyy. I know you worked so hard. Really really proud of you. Way to go :)

    Christine Prefontaine November 20, 2012 at 4:07 am #
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