December 11, 2007

Facebook and ethics

Ed Felton has an interesting commentary on Facebook's Beacon scandal, when Facebook alienated their members by allowing members' non-Facebook activities to be shown on facebook (think browser cookies). Facebook backed away, but Felton's observations about organizational behavior are relevant to more than privacy. Let me reword his section on five inappropriate behaviors/tendencesi...

  1. Overlawyerization: Organizations see privacy ethics as a legal compliance problem. They're happy as long as what they're doing doesn't break the law; so they do something that is lawful but foolish.
  2. Institutional structure: Privacy is Ethics are spun off to a special office or officer so the rest of the organization doesn't have to worry about it; and the privacy ethics office doesn't have the power to head off mistakes.
  3. Treating privacy ethics as only a PR problem: Rather than asking whether its practices are really acceptable to clients the public, the organization does what it wants and then tries to sell its actions to clients the public. The strategy works, until angry clients citizens seize control of the conversation.
  4. Undervaluing emotional factors: The organization sees a potential privacy ethics backlash as "only" an emotional response, which must take a backseat to more important business factors. But clients the public might be angry for a reason; and in any case they will act on their anger.
  5. Irrational desire for control: Decisionmakers like to feel that they're in control of client interactions with the public. Sometimes they insist on control even when it would be rational to follow the client's lead of citizens. Where privacy is ethics are concerned, they want to decide what clients the public should want, rather than listening to what clients citizens actually do want.

Do you know any organizations with these tendencies?

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Posted in Education policy on December 11, 2007 1:46 PM |