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Prometheus Bound: An Historical Content Analysis of Information Regulation in Facebook

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Prometheus Bound: An Historical Content Analysis of Information Regulation in Facebook


The rise of online social networks has engaged regulators, users’ representatives, and social-network service providers in a vibrant regulatory dialogue around shifting privacy norms and laws. Driven by competitive market forces, these social-networking online service providers have introduced new services and opened privacy barriers to allow greater information flow, which, in turn, has created disjunctions between users’ desired and achieved levels of privacy. By examining the conflict of values among stakeholders and subsequent technology changes in the context of privacy expectations, norms, market pressures, and laws, this project explores how the regulatory system affects information collection practices of the largest social network service provider: Facebook. Specifically, the paper traces Facebook’s information collection practices through an historical content analysis of regulatory decisions, users’ complaints, and associated legal documents to illuminate the dynamic relationship among stakeholders in a competitive market.

Overall, the paper reveals a unique response to the regulatory interaction: Facebook repeatedly revised its privacy documents, practices, and interfaces in direct response to the complaints made against its services. This relationship reflects a nudging trend in Facebook’s behavior – the company changed its platform code and added new services in order to implement its corporate goals for enhanced sharing, yet users and NGOs kept complaining against these actions. Moreover, although Facebook opted for the informal regulation practices that the courts preferred, regulators remained focused only on the privacy policy as the important source of privacy notification. Finally, while regulators were inclined to criticize deceitful notices, users’ representatives preferred to claim unfairness following changes in user interfaces.

Undeniably, by adding services and changing privacy settings and notices, online service providers operating in a dynamic and rapidly innovating competitive environment are uniquely able to control their virtual environments and influence users’ behavior as part of the competitive process. This project analyzes the approach of the largest social networking service provider in its competition for users’ attention and, in turn, how it reacts to other stakeholders. The understandings this paper provides help to yield a better sense of required tools and policies to regulate information collection practices.


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