danah boyd talks social networking, data interpretation with Lee Rainie

30 04 2010

Lee Rainie interviewed social networks researcher danah boyd on the future of the Web for a special session at this afternoon’s FutureWeb conference. They discussed the way in which institutions are handling data, bad actors in marketing, socioeconomic factors in

Social networks researcher danah boyd speaks with Lee Rainie in a special interview session at FutureWeb. (Photo: Dan Anderson, Elon University)

technology and how teens are navigating the social networking environment.

Rainie introduced boyd as “the number one reference for social networks- she’s been our teacher for a long time on this stuff.”

danah first addressed an issue she touched on in her keynote speech earlier this morning: the way in which institutions are handling data. She cited pleaserobme.com as a reminder of how much data is available on the Internet.

“Many people take this site seriously, but it’s really just trying to make a delightful point about privacy,” boyd said. “It’s kind of an experiment that really gets to the heart of that.”

When asked about instances of data misuse in the marketing community, boyd said most of the misuses are unintentional. Still, she said it is this level of naïveté that gets us into trouble the most. The challenge is that each company and each researcher means well, but they aren’t necessarily considering the consequences of how they are using data. Instead, the public has to start thinking like hackers in order to anticipate unintended costs.

A conference attendee posed the question of whether one can ever take full account of the data’s context and fully understand it. boyd’s responded with her number one principle in analyzing data: “Know the data you’re working with, and don’t make claims that go beyond that.”

boyd says this is a prime opportunity to work with social scientists.

“We should be doing multi-prong questioning instead of waiting for people to come out with reports,” boyd said.

She acknowledged that a downside to easily accessible data is the potential for misinterpretation. The defense, she said, is to consider how data you are about to distribute could get misinterpreted, and how you will be accountable for it.

Ethical questions arise when considering data misinterpretation. We need to find a way to actively engage ethical practices, which become ways to think through a process, she said.

boyd also addressed the question of ways in which teenagers are navigating the online environment, and how their behaviors differ from older generations.

“Teenagers are looking to understand the world around them, “boyd said. “They come to social media with the understanding that friendship is driven through publicly accessible information. It’s important to them that friends can see them, but those who hold power over them cannot.”

This is nothing new, she said. Previous generations of teenagers valued the same principles, but instead of trying to keep parents out of their rooms, teens are now trying to keep them out of their online environments.

Click here to watch boyd explain why some teens opt out of participating in social networks.

Relating this example back to her ethics discussion, boyd questioned whether parents have the right to look at their children’s information online, just because it is accessible. She said instead, parents should think about how to help their teenagers by simply asking them questions and guiding them accordingly.

boyd’s research on teenagers has also provided insight into socioeconomic factors that effect the way they engage in technology.

“I’ve learned the hard way that talking about socioeconomic factors is the best way to really put the bulls eye on you,” she said.

Her research has revealed divisions between the use of MySpace and Facebook and they way the sites are talked about in terms of class. She found discrepancies in the language that is used on the sites in accordance with the socioeconomic status of the users.

“My role as an ethnographer is to start with the people and then go up from there,” she said. “I have to actually observe what’s happening so you can see the diversity in what’s going on.”

When asked about her insights into how people navigate social networks, successfully and unsuccessfully, she referred to the philosophic discussion on “publics.” We live in multiple publics, each with a certain logic, and we engage in each differently, she said.

Networked publics challenge people in the ways that we deal with it every day, all day. The blurring between public and private, and the challenges of the “invisible public” are altering the way that people navigate online forums.

“(Publics navigation of social networks) will be unstable for a really long time,” boyd said. “It really becomes a big challenge.”

By Ashley Dischinger

Video and more written FutureWeb coverage:
FutureWeb YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/Futureweb2010#p/u
Flickr photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/38539612@N02/sets/72157623891937652/

The Future of Social Networks and the Web

20 04 2010

FutureWeb2010 Conference, Raleigh, N.C., April 29, 10:30 a.m. – noon

Chair: Fred Stutzman, social networks researcher and consultant. Stutzman is the founder of ClaimID.com, a social web identity management system. He is currently a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science and is working on a dissertation that examines how people use social network sites for support during a life transition. Stutzman also held technical and management roles for Ibiblio.org, The Motley Fool and Nortel Networks. His work has been featured in the New York Times Magazine, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, USA Today, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Wired and Newsweek Magazines, and on NPR.

Panel description: According to a recent study, 47 percent of adults use social network sites. Few technologies have grown as fast and had such an immediate impact on culture, communication and commerce. In this panel, we’ll look at the future and consider the next 53 percent, or what happens when social networking becomes ubiquitous. What are the challenges faced by individuals and organizations as social networking expands? What business opportunities are opened up by this global-scale personal interconnection? And how can we leverage this technological shift to increase civic participation, improve health and better society? The panel will aim to specifically isolate the key challenges and opportunities in the looming future for social networks and it will work to identify some specific action steps that can be taken today to work for a better tomorrow.


  • Chris DiBona

    Chris DiBona, open source and public programs manager for Google. DiBona and his team oversee projects like the Summer of Code, which works to oversee license compliance and supports the open source developer community. He also works with Google Moderator, the polling locations API. DiBona has an international reputation for promoting open source software and related methodologies. His personal blog can be found at http://dibona.com/.

  • Henry Copeland

    Henry Copeland, the founder/CEO of BlogAds, which connects 2,500 influential blog advertisers with blog readers and the social media elite. He is also the founder of Twiangulate, a social discovery service for Twitter. Copeland serves on the advisory board for SXSW and the advisory board for George Washington University’s Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet.

  • Zeynep Tufekci

    Zeynep Tufekci, an assistant professor and social networks researcher who works at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. Her research focuses on the social impacts of technology, theorizing the web, gender, research methods, inequality and new media. Tufecki’s blog, which focuses on issues surrounding technology and society, can be found at http://www.technosociology.org.

  • Wayne Sutton

    Wayne Sutton, social networks consultant and strategist at Fragment. He also works as a development and marketing strategist at TriOut, a social network designed to help users meet new people in the North Carolina area and discover new things to do in the Triangle community. Sutton is a partner at OurHashtag. His Web site can be found at http://Wayne-Sutton.com/.

  • Dave Recordon

    Dave Recordon, Senior Open Programs Manager at Facebook. Recordon leads open source and open standards initiatives. He has previously worked with Six Apart, a blogging company, and has played a key role in the development and popularization of key social media technologies such as OpenID. Recordon is the youngest recipient of the Open Source Award (2007), recognized by Google and O’Reilly. Visit his blog at http://daveman692.livejournal.com/.

For more information about FutureWeb 2010 panel discussions, featured panelists and more, click here to navigate to the FutureWeb site. To register for the conference, visit the FutureWeb registration page.

EPIC files suit over Google Buzz, argues violation of data privacy laws

10 03 2010

As the hype surrounding last month’s launch of Google Buzz refuses to cease, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission addressing privacy concerns. The public interest research group, which advocates the protection of privacy rights in the electronic information age, accused Google Buzz of converting the personal information of Gmail users, without consent, into public information on the new social networking site.

EPIC, which will send officials from its organization to coordinate a session on The Future of Privacy and the Web at the FutureWeb conference in Raleigh on April 30, challenged Google Buzz in a formal complaint. It argued the social networking application caused “clear harm to service subscribers” when it automatically drew from contacts in the program into the social network.

Gmail users said they didn’t necessarily want all of their e-mail contacts to follow them in the social network, which is designed similarly to Facebook’s interface. User contact information was made public, though they have the option to set it to remain private. Still, Google Buzz users reported the interface was somewhat confusing, and it was difficult to figure out how to alter privacy settings.

Since the launch of Google Buzz on Feb. 9, Google has changed elements of the service twice. In an attempt to directly address customers’ concerns over privacy, it clarified the option to not display follower information on public profiles. It also added a feature that makes it possible to block followers who have not created a Google Profile.

EPIC wrote in the complaint that, “This change in business practices and service terms violated user privacy expectations, diminished user privacy, contradicted Google’s own privacy policy, and may have also violated federal wiretap laws.”

The Internet privacy watchdog group urged the FTC to launch an immediate investigation into Google’s social networking application to determine whether they should issue a punishment. EPIC called for the FTC to force Google to present Google Buzz as a voluntary service rather than an opt-out application. The group requested that Google provide notice and request consent from users before making any more changes to the privacy policies.

Google says it welcomes all feedback on its latest service, allowing it to make the appropriate changes to Google Buzz. The Washington Post reports:

“We’ve already made a few changes based on user feedback, and we have more improvements in the works,” a Google representative said in a statement. “We also welcome dialogue with EPIC and appreciate hearing directly from them about their concerns. Our door is always open to organizations with suggestions about our products and services.”

EPIC soon filed an amendment to its FTC complaint, in response to a letter from the FTC that acknowledged its complaint, but pointed out the agency could neither confirm nor deny whether it is pursuing a related investigation. EPIC responded to the letter, arguing that Google violated its own Gmail Privacy Policy by using Gmail users’ contact lists and related data for a separate, unrelated service.

A week after EPIC issued its initial complaint, Gmail user Andranik Souvalian sued Google in Rhode Island over similar concerns. Souvalian says that, “Google intentionally exceeded its authorization to access and control confidential and private information.” He argues that Google Buzz is directly in violation of the Stored Communications Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

By Ashley Dischinger

Pew Research Center releases new study on participatory news consumerism

4 03 2010

The Pew Internet & American Life Project and Project for Excellence in Journalism released a joint report Monday exploring the “participatory news consumer.” This new breed of news consumers is the product of advancing technologies and interactive media that continue to enhance the news consumer’s experience.

Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project and a keynote speaker at FutureWeb, is a co-author of the Pew Research Center report on the participatory news consumer. (Photo courtesy of Flickr.)

Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project and leading participant in the FutureWeb 2010 conference, is co-author of the report. Rainie is scheduled as a keynote speaker to address issues surrounding the future of the Web, a topic that directly relates to his recently released participatory news consumer report.

The full 50-page report details research gathered on topics such as the general American news environment, the specific ways in which people use the news and the Internet’s impact on the news industry. The report also covers more recent trends in consumer news such as the attitudes and behaviors of on-the-go news consumers and news that takes on the characteristics of a social activity.

Pew’s research reflects many of the topics that will be discussed at FutureWeb 2010, namely the growing trend of participatory news. The explosion of the digital era, along with interactive Web sites, social media and new technologies, allows an overwhelming 92% of Americans to access their news through multiple platforms on a daily basis.

Almost half of those surveyed say they get news from four to six media platforms, including national TV, local TV, the Internet, national newspapers, local newspapers and the radio. The report also revealed that the Internet is now the third most popular source of news.

The increasing popularity of the Internet is directly related to the survey’s findings that Americans are now embracing a variety of participatory news media. Approximately 37% of Internet users have contributed to the creation of news, commented on stories or propagated news through postings on social media sites such as Twitter or Facebook.

The majority of those surveyed say that their news experience is becoming increasingly social. Friends, family and co-workers commonly share links, post news stories to their social networking sites and link to other news on personal blogs. Topics and current events are discussed through the Internet platform.

Pew reports:

“The advent of social media like social networking sites and blogs has helped the news become a social experience in a fresh way for consumers. The ascent of mobile connectivity via smart phones has turned news gathering and news awareness into an anytime, anywhere affair for a segment of avid news watchers.”

Pew also reports:

“Online, the social experience is widespread: 75% of online news consumers say they get news forwarded through e-mail or posts on social networking sites and 52% say they share links to news with others via those means.”

The report is based on the findings of a daily tracking survey on Americans’ use of the Internet, with data collected through phone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International between December 28, 2009 and January 19, 2010. The sampling reviewed the responses of 2,259 adults, age 18 and older. Pew Internet reports a 95% confidence rate that the range of error is plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

The Internet & American Life Project continues to conduct surveys and analyze research on Internet-related issues that continue to impact the daily lives of Americas, as part of a nonpartisan, not-for-profit initiative. The team has been examining the social impact of the Internet since the late 1990s.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism aims to conduct research to better understand the information revolution. This project specifically evaluates press performance through content analysis in a manner that simultaneously helps journalists who produce the news and news consumers.

The Pew Internet & American Life Center is currently conducting research on what specific technologies are utilized the most, what people are doing online and how consumers are using Pew’s research. For more information, visit the Pew Internet homepage.

By Ashley Dischinger