Privacy, Sharing, and Trust: The Facebook Study
Using sharing on Facebook as a case study, this essay presents empirical evidence suggesting that trust is a significant factor in individuals’ willingness to share personal information on online social networks. I then make two arguments, one that explains why Facebook is designed the way it is and one that calls for legal protection against unfair manipulation of users. I argue that Facebook is built on trust: the trust that exists between friends and the trust that exists between users and the platform. In particular, I describe how Facebook designs its platform and interface to leverage the trust we have in our friends to nudge us to share. Sometimes, that helps create a dynamic social environment: knowing what our friends are doing helps us determine when it is safe to interact. Other times, Facebook leverages trust to manipulate us into sharing information with advertisers. This should give us pause. Because Facebook uses trust-based design on social posts as well as advertisements, users may be confused about the privacy effects of clicking on the item. Federal and state consumer and privacy protection regulators should step in.