Theses Doctoral

Privacy As Trust: Sharing Personal Information in a Networked World

Waldman, Ari E.

Global data networks pose potential dangers to personal privacy by making much of our information available for others to see. Our credit card numbers, names and addresses, prescription drug histories, intimate photographs, and even our movements along city streets are subject to relatively easy surveillance through network technologies. This thesis addresses a threat to privacy occasioned by modern life in a networked world: since limited disclosure of certain personal information is often necessary to participate in modern social, commercial, and professional life, under what circumstances, if any, can we retain privacy rights in information previously disclosed? The answer is explored through a sociological lens and concludes that, under certain circumstances, disclosures in contexts of trust are private.
Traditional conceptualizations of what it means for something to be private and legally protected as such are inadequate to respond to the challenges stemming from technological advancement. Developed over time and influenced by inherent political and philosophical biases, conventional theories of privacy actually endanger our rights in a world where privacy invasions are more frequent, less avoidable, and damaging. Reorienting legal analysis of invasions of privacy around principles of trust would protect personal privacy in the modern world. Ultimately, this thesis argues that disclosures made in contexts of trust that give rise to obligations of confidence and discretion are not truly made public and, therefore, should retain legal protection as private. And trust, evidence presented shows, is not limited to close relationships among intimates or legally-defined relationships; trust extends to relationships and social connections based on several social factors, including strong overlapping networks, identity sharing, and experience.
The locus of theoretical inquiry is primarily the effects of the internet on privacy and how to solve the problem of limited disclosures. In this respect, the main contribution of this thesis is the articulation of social trust as a basis for drawing the line between what is public and what is private. The locus of empirical inquiry is Facebook, an online social network platform that is used not as a perfect proxy for all social interactions and disclosures, but as a case study to highlight the problems of modern social interaction, its effects on personal privacy, and the role of trust in at least some decisions to share personal information. Here, the thesis's main contribution is the study of how trust in others, including strangers, influences sharing on an online social network and the identification of social indicia of trust that inspires sharing. The recommendations are legal, spanning tort, constitutional, and intellectual property law, providing both scholars and judges with theoretical and practical tools for strengthening privacy during technology's remarkable journey forward.



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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Eyal, Gil
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 24, 2015