Alexis Madrigal argues that frictionless sharing could undermine our legal right to privacy:

You are no doubt familiar, now, with Facebook’s concept of “frictionless sharing.” You enable a social reader like the one from the Washington Post and the next time you read an article on the site, news of that textual encounter is broadcast to your Facebook friends. {…}

In Fourth Amendment cases, the Supreme Court has to determine what “a reasonable expectation of privacy” actually is. If you do have that expectation of privacy, then the government needs a warrant to look into your communications. So, if you go out in the public street and shout to the world that you committed a crime, the government does not need a warrant to use that communication. However, if you were to send a sealed letter to a friend containing the same information, you would have a reasonable expectation that the government would not be reading that note.

Because we’re talking about expectations, we have to think about what cultural norms are and the actions that signal what norms are in play. For example, Kaminski notes, “In the 1967 seminal Supreme Court case on wiretapping, Katz v. United States, Katz placed a phone call in a public phone booth with the door closed, and was found to have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the phone call, so a warrant was required for wiretapping the phone.” Closing the door meant he expected the call to be private.

And the problem with frictionless sharing is that it may leave the door open for the government to collect and use information without a warrant.

“Justice Alito recently contemplated that we may be moving toward a world in which so many people share information with so many friends that social norms no longer indicate a reasonable expectation of privacy in that information,” Kaminski writes. “Without a reasonable expectation of privacy, there will be no warrant requirement for law enforcement to obtain that information. This analysis is troubling; sharing information with your friends should not mean that you expect it to be shared with law enforcement.”

I was skeptical of the headline, but reading the article it actually made sense. It actually makes me wonder, more broadly, if the perception of young people wanting to share everything won’t change privacy expectations with or without frictionless sharing.

I consider frictionless sharing to be, on the whole, a negative thing regardless of its fourth amendment implications. I mean, I keep (albeit with poor maintenance) a list of what I am reading, watching, and listening to on this site. But I choose what to put up there. I put up a thing for Fringe, or maybe a season of Fringe. Frictionless sharing can mean, basically, that every time I watch an episode of Fringe it gets posted. Or every time I listen to something on Spotify, you get to find out what it is. I don’t care if you know, but I don’t have any reason to believe you would want to know. And if I think you might, I’ll write a post on it.

The same goes for articles that I read. If I find something interesting, I’ll pass it along. But just because I am reading something doesn’t mean that I think you will be interested in reading it as well. The same applies to Facebook friends and such. The internet as a whole has a signal-to-noise problem, and this creates a whole lot more signal.

Category: Server Room

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5 Responses to Frictionless Sharing

  1. Brandon Berg says:

    Every once in a while I’ll get something on my Facebook news feed that says something like “X read an article: A Look Inside Snooki’s Shoe Closet.”

    That’s why I refuse to sign up for those things.

  2. trumwill says:

    Yeah. Sometimes I want to share what I am reading. Sometimes, I do not.

  3. Kirk says:

    I only finally got onto Facebook when I figured out you can use a fake name. Considering all the negatives associated with the site I’m not sure why anyone would use their real one.

  4. Kirk says:

    One of your partners has a good article on the “Girls Around Me,” app. Talk about an invasion of privacy…

  5. trumwill says:

    I am obviously not averse to using fake names, but I see Facebook as a venue to use your real one. But if it gets you on it where you otherwise wouldn’t be, something is better than nothing. I’ve considered making a Will Truman Facebook page, but couldn’t find a way of squaring it with my real Facebook identity that wouldn’t lead people to immediately identify the connection between the two.

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