Mapping the public/private boundary on Facebook
Facebook celebrated its sixth birthday in January 2010. Since 2004, the site has advanced from providing a service for a small, select group of students at Harvard University in the US to becoming the most popular social networking site in the Western world. The initial restrictions on joining Facebook gave users the impression that they were part of an exclusive private community. In 2010, registration is unrestricted and the site has around 400 million users; it can no longer be viewed as exclusive. However, the perception of the site as a private-bounded community lingers. The Facebook boundary is gradually eroding following a progression of developments on the platform: users can access the social network from a variety of mobile media; external websites and advertisers can link to the site; external companies can develop and mount social applications on the site; and new links have been forged with external online service providers such as Yahoo and Microsoft. Facebook does not charge users for its services, and any suggestion that a fee might be imposed is met with strong opposition from users. Therefore, Facebook is relies on generating money by advertising, and enables companies to reach their target markets by using personal information posted on the site. The social network site must try to balance the competing needs of different users ranging from private individuals who expect a level of privacy to advertisers who seek to monetize the opportunities offered by the ability to target their specific markets. At the heart of this dichotomy lies the personal information of private users. Facebook has attracted the attention of a diverse range of users, including institutions such as the CIA, British Army, politicians and advocacy groups. These Facebook public pages usually offer private individuals the opportunity for interaction with these bodies without the requirement to negotiate the gatekeepers usually found in traditional media platforms, public institutions and private companies. Facebook foregrounds the ability of users to control access to the content they post, but how effective are the control mechanisms in the face of the commercial imperative and the surveillance opportunities enabled by the social network site? My thesis seeks to establish a map of the public/private boundary on Facebook by looking at the core elements of social networking and their consequences for privacy.