Lior Strahilevitz on Facebook, the Cambridge Analytica Scandal, and Privacy as an "Intermediate Good"

What Can Be Done About Facebook and Privacy?

When you started teaching your own classes, what were you pulling from, and what were your students aware of in the field?

This was before social media really, or before what we now think of as social media. The story I started with that year was this Davos story. It was famous in 2004. Laurie Garrett was her name. Garrett was a journalist who went to Davos for the World Economic Forum and she wrote an email back to five or 10 friends, this sort of breathless, “Oh, it’s so fabulous, rubbing elbows with all these really fabulous people.” And she forwards it to 10 friends. And it was one of the first things that went viral. One of her friends forwarded to 30 more, and then 50 more got it, and over the span of a couple days, a whole bunch of people who didn’t know Laurie Garrett the journalist were making all kinds of judgments about her, and it was getting written up in mainstream news outlets. I started with that story on the first day back in 2003, not realizing that it was basically proto-social media. It was just email!

But it was the same problem, which is a pervasive problem in privacy: almost nobody keeps all their secrets or sensitive information to themselves. You tell your best friend secrets, you tell you spouse secrets, you tell your doctor secrets. Your lawyer, your priest. And expectations are that by sharing information with some people, you’re not opening yourself up to all that information being printed on the front page of the New York Times.

The basic Laurie Garrett problem continues to be the core of a lot of the really interesting issues in 2018. [For example,] “I took a dumb personality test on Facebook thinking that some psychologist in Great Britain was going to get some information for his academic research. No big deal. And then it turns out this information went to Cambridge Analytica, who used it to manipulate what I saw during the election. Whoa.”

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