Josh's INET independent study, Spring 2006

My semester-long journal guiding all my readers through the independent study I am doing as part of the Internet Studies minor with Professor Hickey at Brandeis.

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Location: Waltham, Massachusetts, United States

March 22, 2006

Privacy Concerns

Instant Messaging and Privacy

This content of this article is based on a study of various people from a multitude of backgrounds. The study is about IM privacy with regards to non-contacts (someone whose screen name you don't know), availability, and content. Most of the participants in this study were not too concerned with privacy when using IM, realizing that there is not much privacy online in the first place. The only person to have a public profile when online was the participant that is a college student. This could be the case merely because most college kids want to socialize and "advertise themselves", as the article states. Most people are extremely careful about who they add to their list of contacts because the privacy barriers greatly differ depending on whether or not you actually know the person.

Regarding availability at work, most subjects try to seem as available as possible to their co-workers in order to collaborate on team projects. Additionally, they pay more attention to the availability of fellow co-workers on their contact list (or buddy list, on AIM). In order to help people see one's availability at work, one can put up a status indicator, such as an away message.

People typically include friends and family on their contact lists at work, and, while their attention is focused on work-related issues, there are occassional side conversations with friends and family going on as well, usually serving as a break at work. Home is typically brought into the workplace rather than the opposite. At home, most people don't want to be in contact with co-workers since they do not want work to invade their personal lives. The downside of having co-workers on a contact list at work is that most people do not want to have their bosses and supervisors on this list. People would prefer if their bosses do not always know the extent of their availability while at work (or home, too).

The subjects also realized that IM conversations at work can be monitored by administrators, saved by the other person involved, or forwarded to a third party. However, there is a general reasonable expectation that conversations will only be read by the intended recipient. As a result of the fear in the back of their minds, most workers try to avoid saying anything in an IM conversation that could be detrimental to them in the future. In general, for very in-depth important conversations, people still resort to either using the phone or meeting face-to-face to have a conversation. IM can be come across as being extremely impersonal. The other fear that some people seem to have is that others may take a glance at their screen and secretly read parts of conversations. At work, people tend to minimize the IM windows when they see that a co-worker is walking by.

Since many people are concerned with how they appear to others, the article suggests that IM systems allow their users to manage the impression they project through IMs to various groups of people. There should be separate profiles for students, managers, and home users, fo instance. If someone puts his phone number in his profile, he should be able to choose who has access to that information. People need to know what information about themselves others can access.

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