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Two Reading Assignments on the Loss of Privacy

Monday, March 22, 2010 at 01:25 PM EDT

I submit to your interest two speeches that challenge acceptance of status quos by which our collective frogs are slowly boiling.

First is Freedom in the Cloud, by , given at the Internet Society in New York on 5 February.

Second is Making Sense of Privacy and Publicity, by . Given on 13 March at SXSW. One teaser quote:

A teaser quote from Eben:

…in effect, we lost the ability to use either legal regulation or anything about the physical architecture of the network to interfere with the process of falling away from innocence that was now inevitable in the stage I’m talking about, what we might call late Google stage 1.

It is here, of course, that Mr. Zuckerberg enters.

The human race has susceptibility to harm but Mr. Zuckerberg has attained an unenviable record: he has done more harm to the human race than anybody else his age.

Because he harnessed Friday night. That is, everybody needs to get laid and he turned it into a structure for degenerating the integrity of human personality and he has to a remarkable extent succeeded with a very poor deal. Namely, “I will give you free web hosting and some PHP doodads and you get spying for free all the time”. And it works.

A teaser quote from Danah:

It’s easy to think that “public” and “private” are binaries. We certainly build a lot of technology with this assumption. At best, we break out of this with access-control lists where we list specific people who some piece of content should be available to. And at best, we expand our notion of “private” to include everything that is not “public.” But this binary logic isn’t good enough for understanding what people mean when they talk about privacy. What people experience when they talk about privacy is more complicated than what can be instantiated in a byte.

To get at this, let’s talk about how people experience public and private in unmediated situations. Because it’s not so binary there either.

First, think about a conversation that you may have with a close friend. You may think about that conversation as private, but there is nothing stopping your friend from telling someone else what was said, except for your trust in your friend. You actually learned to trust your friend, presumably through experience.

Learning who to trust is actually quite hard. Anyone who has middle school-aged kids knows that there’s inevitably a point in time when someone says something that they shouldn’t have and tears are shed. It’s hard to learn to really know for sure that someone will keep their word. But we don’t choose not to tell people things simply because they could spill the beans. We do our best to assess the situation and act accordingly.

We don’t just hold people accountable for helping us maintain privacy; we also hold the architecture around us accountable. We look around a specific place and decide whether or not we trust the space to allow us to speak freely to the people there.

They’re talking about different things, but they overlap. They both have to do with a loss of control, and both set out agenda for those who care. Curious to know what ya’ll think.