Video presentation: researching privacy online

Here’s a short video presentation of our work on online privacy. Paola Tubaro, principal investigator of the research project THEOP (Testing the Hypothesis of the End-Of-Privacy) explains how to work with social simulation to have better insights into how social media users protect their private contents.

Sunbelt XXXII presentation: Social media and the alleged ‘End Of Privacy’

Here’s the presentation, co-authored by Paola Tubaro and Antonio A. Casilli of the THEOP research project, delivered on March 18th, 2012 at Sunbelt, the annual conference of the International Network for Social Network Analysis (INSNA).

Building on a online ethnographic fieldwork, we create an agent-based simulation to evaluate how the trend to disclose personal informations in social media is compatible with the urge to protect users privacy. We discover that, in highly connected and culturally diverse environments such as Facebook, privacy decreases and increases cyclically.


The THEOP project investigates the so-called “End of Privacy” hypothesis, according to which our societies are experiencing a gradual, but steady erosion of the value of privacy as we know it today. Contemporary media narratives of privacy typically point the finger at online networking services such as Facebook and Twitter (see e.g. Arthur 2012): the increased social connectedness of their users allegedly brings about a tendency to renounce privacy in favour of an open existence, especially among younger generations. This view has raised considerable controversy worldwide, polarising the reaction of its critics as well as of its partisans (Gross & Acquisti 2005; Barnes 2006; Jarvis, 2011).

THEOP employs a cutting-edge method bringing together online ethnographies and computer agent-based simulations. We first observe an actual social process, and then create a computer environment with “agents” – artificial software entities endowed with suitable behavioural rules – that interact repeatedly with one another in this environment. The intent is to observe the outcome: do we see any recognizable pattern emerge in the social system as a whole? can we formulate policy recommendations to facilitate the ongoing regulation effort of data collection and treatment both at corporate and state level?

(The research project THEOP is funded by the Fondation CIGREF – ISD programme 2011)