Microsoft researcher danah boyd (she prefers no caps) presented a pretty bleak picture of how privacy and publicity is managed online today in her SXSW Interactive keynote. Targeting Chatroulette, FacebookGoogle Buzz as examples, boyd says consumers have no idea what they are sharing online–and that the business that build social networks don’t either.

Facebook changed it privacy policies in December, requiring each user to sign off on their new privacy settings. When offered this choice, 35% of users chose to make their profiles private. Boyd pointed out that means that 65% made their updates public. After conducting scores of interviews, Boyd doubts those users even read the privacy statement; they just clicked through as we have been conditioned to do.

“I have yet to find a single person who actually knew what they their settings were.” boyd says. “When they don’t know what the value proposition is, they just click through.”

And that can lead to problems. Google Buzz’s difficult launch was due mostly because users didn’t understand the service. By auto-picking user’s friends on Buzz, users thought Google was sharing their information was being shared without their permission. Worse, users didn’t understand how to opt out. “I kept meeting users that thought if they opted out, they would cancel their GMail accounts,” boyd says.

To be fair, boyd notes that many of these privacy problems are created by people’s desire to gain publicity and get famous. She used Miley Cyrus as an example.  Cyrus accumulating 2 million followers on Twitter and then deleted her account for privacy reasons. What did she do then?

“She made a rap about quitting Twitter because she wanted privacy–which she then put up on YouTube.” Boyd says. “That is celebrity culture.”

If Miley Cyrus with her legion of handlers and advisors can’t effectively manage publicity and privacy, what chance does the average online consumer have? Or worse, a 15-year-old kid with a Facebook page? Not much.

“Chatroulette may be a fad, but the idea that privacy and publicity is going to get mashed up is not.” Boyd said. “Neither privacy nor publicity is dead, but technology will make a mess of both.”

Originally posted to AppScout