I Read A Book: Lori Andrews’ I Know Who You Are And I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy

Privacy's Been Dead since at least 1997, since Time Magazine tells me so, but is the real date 1890?

When I first heard about I Know Who You Are And I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy, my first thought was … Lori Andrews of biotechnology law fame wrote a sequel to Lois Duncan’s I Know What You Did Last Summer?*

But this book speaks instead to the increasingly tricky situations that online culture places the legal system, businesses that collect personally identifiable information — and more generally how we relate to each other regarding what was viewed at one point as private information. And if you don’t get further than this paragraph, this is one of the best books written about online privacy from a legal perspective for a more general audience that has been published in the last five years.

This book isn’t rah-rah woo-hoo on how fabulous the internetz is, but neither does it view online culture as purely dangerous. The book is based around her idea of a social media constitution, with chapters supporting the need for a right to connect, freedom of speech, privacy of place, and privacy of information. The arguments are clearly laid out, and Andrews explains complex legal arguments, such as the history and present status of the right of privacy, in a way that adds to the understanding of those with a legal background, yet not being confusing for those without.

I appreciate that Andrews also spends time throughout the book discussing the difficulty in analyzing what is personal and what is professional. Her examples will help to broaden our analysis in our upcoming law review article, Be the Brand: Required Involvement in Social Media (very short version here). This has especially become an issue for certain types of government (and related employees), such as teachers and law enforcement types. She also dedicates three chapters to analyzing how difficult it is to draw boundary lines for social media within the judicial process — for parents in custody battles, for judges in “friendship” with attorneys, and for jurors that don’t seem to understand when they are told not to social media, that it means them.

Andrews also discusses the differential in the impact of online harassment and bullying on specific groups, such as kids — because they are more easily influenced by their peers — and women, who take threats of or actual harassment seriously, not as “a harmless prank” as one defendant’s attorney quoted by Andrews’ puts it. While she does write a bit about the Arab spring, I hope to eventually read something that really breaks down why the impact of online negative activities impacts other types of categories of difference — and why the “just put it all out there” style of handling online privacy ignores racism, “slut shaming”, and other negatives.

The one point that the book doesn’t make that I wish it would have is that for companies in the business of data collection, such as Facebook, it isn’t in their their financial interest and thought process to make money to protect their users’ information from being exploited. And that is why the efforts of the FTC under the leadership of Jon Leibowitz to “protect[] consumer privacy in an era of rapid change” is so important.

Takeaway: Likely Andrews’ social media constitution will not be accepted, but it (and this book as a whole) is an important well-reasoned voice in the next steps to balance privacy with rights of expression.

*She did write a series of novels, so this thought isn’t super-weird.

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