TR: A lot of people wonder why it matters if companies share personal data. How are people affected by privacy violations?
DB: The easiest one to explain is the case of teachers. They have a role to play during the school day and there are times and places where they have lives that are not student-appropriate. Online, it becomes a different story. Facebook has now made it so that you can go and see everybody’s friends regardless of how private your profile is. And the teachers are constantly struggling with the fact that, no matter how obsessively they’ve tried to make their profiles as private as possible, one of their friends can post a photo from when they were 16 and drinking or doing something else stupid, and all of a sudden, kids bring it into school. We want teachers to be able to have a teacher relationship to our kids that is different from what the teacher has to their intimates. Yet the technology puts the teacher constantly at risk.
TR: What can users do about this kind of thing?
DB: I think that the voices need to start speaking up. They have with Facebook historically, and I think that’s the really interesting thing. Users have taken issue when the rules changed and the company gave no warning.
TR: But does it matter if users speak up?
DB: It’s different for different cases. [Facebook’s failed advertising platform] Beacon didn’t have the outcome you might have expected. Users said, “Oh my God, what is this? This is horrible.” And a class action suit ensued. That did not result in the service eventually being accepted.
TR: What sort of regulation would be helpful?
DB: If you’re going to change the privacy settings, the default should always be what the users originally chose, and you have to opt into changes. Period. End of story.
TR: What could Facebook do that would convince you they’d changed their ways?
DB: They need a set of actions that show that they’re paying attention. If they actually care about making certain that people have a real model of understanding about their privacy, the best thing they could do is have every post that they put up there show all the people who can actually see it or show how many people can see it. If you see something that is visible to 10 million people, you might think twice about what the heck you did with your privacy settings.