Youth, Privacy, and Online Media

As you read this article, reflect on how our expectations of privacy have changed over the past few generations. After you read, take some time to think about the activities you engage in that could be subject to data collection. Does this bother you? What do you do to limit the data collected from your online activity? Write an essay of two or three paragraphs summarizing your thoughts.

Conclusion: Privacy as a social norm in a new form

At the turn of the last century 'time' was pronounced dead. Modernist artists and authors challenged the rigid factory clock time of society as unnatural to the fluid time of the individual, and scientists and philosophers challenged its Newtonian constitution with relativist theories. Particularly, the evolution of the network society and the consequent structural reorganization of time and space posed a fundamental question about the constitution of 'time'. Although not based on a scientific paradigm, "privacy" is to the young people in this study – as well as previous studies – a "clock". Privacy is a very real and practical navigation tool based on socially negotiated and agreed upon principles of organization. One might argue that what happened to our conception of time in the last century is happening to our notions of "privacy" in this century. The friction between evolving online social practices and traditional discourses concerning the private and the public as two isolated and separated spheres, have developed into a fundamental critique of privacy as a constraint on online self expression and digital media innovation. Naturally, if we describe privacy as a specific type of space or place within the public sphere, it can only be defined as, on the one hand, "constraining" or, on the other hand, "liberating," depending on the specific stakeholder or interest. However, if we view privacy as a fundamental organizing principle for an individual to navigate in society, it will also provide an opportunity to evolve. One of the contributions of poststructuralist and postmodernist accounts of the self and social formation is the way in which social and cultural constructs alter reality. Perhaps even more central is social sciences' focus on discerning specific "principles of organization" in social systems that on the surface might appear disorganized and chaotic. To understand privacy as an evolving concept is essential to the public policy debate on privacy and data protection in the digital age, including emerging principles of organization for online social practices. A contemporary "translation" of privacy norms does not reject privacy as a fundamental human right, but underpins the freedom to rethink and translate the concept into a digital context. Time obviously never died and neither will privacy. These fundamental concepts, used as navigators to organize individual lives in society, have just evolved.

In this article, we have argued for a reformulation of "online privacy" in the global policy debate based on an evolving definition of the concept. The practices of young people on online social media platforms were used as indicators for future user behavior, thereby building a case for utilizing these and other results to inform policy-making processes. The focus group study revealed that privacy and identity management is a strong social norm for some young people, which they manage via a number of social strategies as well as technical tools. This study highlighted a core challenge to a sense of control for young people over their privacy. This challenge presented itself as a fundamental dilemma embedded in the core structure of their everyday social spaces. The respondents' sense of control over personal data was related to their pre-posting decisions (e.g., what to publish, with whom to share, etc.), creation of groups, etc. yet once data was "out there" they experienced limited control over their data and had no sense of themselves as privacy rights holders. In other words, signing off privacy rights to the social network site was seen as a necessary price to be paid in order to participate.

This study prompts a number of questions that would benefit from further exploration of future models for online privacy.

Firstly, it is often presumed that users of online social media, in particular young people, voluntarily share data. However, the respondents in this study envisioned two types of "privacy". They share data about themselves voluntarily in social circles with a view to their "social privacy" (identity and social network management), but "data sharing" with unknown entities: the "repurposing" of their data (data mining, commercial use) is perceived as a precondition for social participation and can therefore not be designated as a voluntary act. How can we reframe our conversation about "online privacy" in a way that recognizes both the individual's right to social privacy among peers and the individual's right to privacy in relation to their interaction with unknown entities?

Secondly, public life on the Internet is largely facilitated by corporations driven by commercial interests. There is a need to critically assess this development's implications for individual right to privacy. Young people in this study perceive commercial social media platforms as a primary public and social infrastructure. Yet, they at the same time acknowledge these platforms as private businesses and therefore accept that they can create terms of use that include the use of their data. As described, it makes a difference whether a social network site is framed primarily as a commercial service, or as a public platform that is part of the public sphere. Young people in this study sign off on privacy rights due to a specific framing, while their actual use of the platforms address a different type of framing. How can we reframe the conversation in public policy-making processes about the social media platforms in a way that acknowledges the role of these businesses in the development of our public infrastructures?

Finally, the primary model for social media use is a "consent model" where users agree to general terms and conditions that may include a reuse of personal data. Studies of user perceptions, knowledge and behavior, as presented in this article, illustrate how the structural conditions in which practices evolve, define and confine their sense of empowerment and control and thus the very implementation of their right to privacy. Participants in this study had very limited knowledge about the repurposing of their data. They did not exhibit any evidence that they understood how they could control the use of their personal information. Thus, we might pose a final question to policy-makers. How can we help frame the development of online business models that, as a priority, advance the structural conditions for personal control and empowerment of the user?