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    USA Today: Cellphones, social networks make eavesdropping OK?

    USA Today takes a look at the idea that privacy norms have changed as more people join social-networking services such as Facebook, MySpace or Google Buzz.

    A century ago, when the first home phones were “party lines” shared by neighbors, “worrying you were being listened in on was a common feature of American culture,” says sociologist Claude Fischer of the University of California-Berkeley.

    Oh, how times have changed. Now, we’re not only unconcerned about overheard phone calls, we purposely broadcast our personal business to large groups of “friends” and “followers” on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

    As a result, we’re fast becoming a nation of casual eavesdroppers, where every day we tune in to a constant stream of updates on what others are saying and doing, from where they’re about to eat lunch (complete with photos) to their conversations with others.

    All this sharing, some experts say, may be feeding a tendency toward exhibitionism, and devaluing the very privacy that earlier generations so desired. […]

    But is it really eavesdropping if they’re broadcasting and we can’t help overhearing? “I don’t regard it at all as me eavesdropping,” says Etti Baranoff, who has overheard plenty of cellphone conversations in 15 years of traveling twice a week as an associate professor of insurance and finance at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. “We think no matter where we are, we are in our own living room, but we are not. We are walking with our phones as if we are in our own homes.” […]

    Pop culture expert Richard Lachmann, a sociology professor at the University at Albany, State University of New York, says it’s not just the idea of privacy that has changed. He believes the very nature of eavesdropping is up for debate, since people are willing to share more and more personal information.

    “Everybody still has a notion of eavesdropping. It’s somebody trying to hear something they haven’t been invited to hear. What’s changing is what goes in that category,” he says.

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