© 2008 by Catherine Dwyer


  Dissertation Committee Members:

Dr. Starr Roxanne Hiltz, Dissertation Advisor
Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Information Systems, NJIT

Dr. Katia Passerini, Committee Member
Assistant Professor, Joint appointment with Information Systems and the School of Management, NJIT

Dr. George Widmeyer, Committee Member
Associate Professor, Information Systems, NJIT

Dr. Naomi Rotter, Committee Member
Professor, School of Management, NJIT

Dr. Marshall Scott Poole, External Committee Member
Professor, Speech Communication, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign



Social networking sites have emerged as one of the most widely used types of interactive systems, with memberships numbering in the hundreds of millions around the globe. By providing tools for their members to manage an ever-changing set of relationships, social networking sites push a constant expansion of social boundaries. These sites place less emphasis on tools that limit social boundaries to enable privacy.

The rapid expansion of online social boundaries has caused privacy shockwaves. Privacy offline is enabled by constraints of time and space. Online, powerful search engines and long term digital storage means private data have no expiration date. Within an online culture of anonymity and fluid self-presentation of identity, social networking sites can be turned into places of perceived safety but with privacy risks that actually extend indefinitely.

While these sites do deploy privacy management features, it is not understood how people use social networking sites, how they use privacy management features, and how these two are related. In order to design better privacy mechanisms for social software, we must capture how members manage their privacy in the current environment.

This dissertation introduces The Social Software Performance Model, which describes relevant factors and their interaction in order to explain patterns of privacy management. The Model is a synthesis of Adaptive Structuration Theory, the Fit Appropriation Model and socio-technical systems theory. Adaptive Structuration Theory attempts to explain appropriation, defined as the process by which people integrate technology into their daily tasks and activities. A central premise of this research is that the appropriation perspective is a valuable lens for teasing apart how members of these sites adopt and adapt privacy management features.

Using Adaptive Structuration Theory, this dissertation developed and validated new measures that capture appropriation patterns related to privacy management within social networking sites. The research introduces three independent constructs that measure privacy management appropriation. They are the Use appropriation move, which measures actual use of privacy management features; the Familiarity appropriation move, which measure knowledge of privacy management features; and the Restricted Scope appropriation move, which measures the extent to which members independently limit the scope of their online social network to protect their privacy.

Survey data was collected from subjects in two different social networking sites, Facebook and MySpace, and used to evaluate hypotheses developed from The Social Software Performance Model. Using a partial least squares analysis, the research model explained 28.5% of the variance with respect to appropriation of privacy management features. This is a strong result for exploratory research.

This research makes a contribution by extending theories to a new context, by applying both the Adaptive Structuration Theory and the Fit Appropriation Model to the use of privacy management in social networking sites. Using types and sub-types of appropriation moves from Adaptive Structuration Theory, new measures were developed and validated. These new measures, with further efforts to establish validity and reliability, can be adapted to understand appropriations for other forms of social software.

The main finding of the research is a method to evaluate the effectiveness of different implementations of privacy management within social networking sites. While information system theory has been primarily concerned with systems used in an organizational context, the results of this research shows these theories are relevant to new systems based on social interaction.

These new types of social software, generically labeled as Web 2.0, are among the most popular on the Internet. Besides Facebook and MySpace, examples of Web 2.0 include the video sharing site, and the photo sharing site These sites thrive on intensive social interaction, and are growing in scope and importance. There has been little consensus among researchers as to how to measure the effectiveness of Web 2.0 systems. This lack of consensus presents a strategic opportunity for information systems theory, which has made determinations of effectiveness an important focus. This research has adapted information systems theory to study the effectiveness of privacy management.

The development of privacy management has proven to be a difficult problem, and a deeper understanding of its effectiveness is expected to improve the overall design of these systems. By adapting information systems theory to the use of privacy management within social networking sites, this research shows that information systems theory can also be used applied to Web 2.0 applications. This provides a foundation for the further development of methods to measure the effectiveness of additional components within social software.


Publications on this research to date: 

"Designing Privacy Into Online Communities," with S.R. Hiltz, Proceedings of Internet Research 9.0, October 2008 (forthcoming)

“Understanding Development and Usage of Social Networking Sites: The Social Software Performance Model,” with S.R. Hiltz & G. Widmeyer, Proceedings of HICSS 2008 

“Trust and Privacy Concern Within Social Networking Sites: A Comparison of Facebook and MySpace,” with S.R. Hiltz and K. Passerini, Proceedings of AMCIS 2007

bullet cited by boyd, d. m., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 11

 “Task Technology Fit, the Social Technical Gap, and Social Networking Sites,” AMCIS Doctoral Consortium 2007

  “Digital Relationships in the ‘MySpace’ Generation:  Results From a Qualitative Study,” Proceedings of HICSS 2007

bullet cited by Eszter Hargittai (2007) Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 13 (1) , 276–297
bullet this paper is required reading for INLS 490.151 Online Social Networks, a graduate course at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill)

“Visibility Within Mediated Networks: An Exploration of Contextual Factors,” with S.R. Hiltz, CHI 2006 Workshop on Mobile Social Software



Press coverage of this research:

bullet "Putting Your Best Cyberface Forward," by Stephanie Rosenbloom, in The New York Times
bullet "MySpace indictments may force change, or at least talk," by Tim Barker, in The St. Louis Post Dispatch
bullet "The Rise of Alter Egos In Everybody's Space," by Kim Hart, in The Washington Post
bullet "Baring it all: People Expose Their Whole Lives on Facebook," by Erin Kristalyn, in Glue Magazine
bullet “Facebook, MySpace users will trade privacy for features,” by Heather Havenstein in ComputerWorld
bullet “Trading privacy for friends?,” by Alice Ritchie, distributed by AFP news bureau
bullet “Is the MySpace Crowd Lying to Marketers?,” by Michael Estrin, in iMediaConnection, a trade publication for online marketers
bullet “Facebook: Managing Youth Privacy and Trust,” by Jay Cline, in INSIDE 1 to 1: Privacy, a newsletter distributed by the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP)
bullet “Trust and Privacy Concern Within Social Networking Sites,” cited on Ed Cast, hosted by Linda Hirsch, CUNY TV, broadcast on 10/24/2007 


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