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Facebook Data Privacy Concepts Do Not Translate in Cambodia

By Guest Writer on March 31, 2022

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Privacy scholarship has shown how norms of appropriate information flow and information regulatory processes vary according to environment, which change as the environment changes, including through the introduction of new technologies.

Localization of Transnational Technology Platforms and Liminal Privacy Practices in Cambodia describes findings from a qualitative research study that examines practices and perceptions of privacy in Cambodia as the population rapidly moves into an online environment – specifically Facebook, the most popular Internet tool in Cambodia today.

Privacy Concepts in Cambodian Culture

We empirically demonstrate how the concept of privacy differs across cultures and show how the Facebook platform, as
it becomes popular worldwide, catalyzes change in norms of information regulation. We discuss how the localization of transnational technology platforms provides a key site in which to investigate changing cultural ideas about privacy, and to discover misalignments between different expectations for information flow.

Through 43 interviews with a diverse range of Cambodian participants, we reveal that the Western concept of privacy is not translated easily into the Cambodian (Khmer) language. In Khmer-language interviews, we translated and explained the concept through adjacent concepts with Khmer terms for personal or confidential information, the concept of secrecy, and the idea of the right to own your own information.

Reducing these nuances, however, Facebook has translated the word ‘privacy’ in its settings using the Khmer term ‘peap aikajun’, literally translated as the noun form of private (as in, private property). This is a concept and word that few Khmer speakers use or understand. Conversations and education about using Facebook safely in Khmer language often entail substantial definitional and translational work.

Because of these translation issues and other problems that we discuss, many Cambodians who only speak Khmer have trouble understanding Facebook in Khmer language. As a result, some choose not to use Khmer-language Facebook settings at all and instead use English-language settings, memorizing the most important functions for their daily use. These conditions put them at risk, however, for information vulnerabilities.

We Need International Privacy Regulation

Finally, we explore ways that insufficient localization effort by transnational technology companies puts some of the most marginalized users at disproportionate information disclosure risk when using new Internet tools, and offer some pragmatic suggestions for how such companies could improve privacy tools for users who are far – geographically or culturally – from where the tools are designed.

Ultimately, many of the problems we raise in this paper will need to be worked out through broad internationally-developed regulation of technology platforms. Suggesting that companies self-regulate is not adequate; Facebook might have business incentives to encourage information disclosure through public settings because more public information leads to greater engagement on the site.

International regulation is required to determine what kinds of data collection practices should be permissible, and minimum requirements for usability of safety and privacy tools. Regulating these platforms on an international scale, however, represents a substantial challenge of global consensus building and enforcement, in part because of the translational and definitional challenges we have discussed.

A synopsis of Localization of Transnational Technology Platforms and Liminal Privacy Practices in Cambodia by Margaret Jack, Pang Sovannaroth, and Nicola Dell

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