I really enjoyed “Is Privacy Dead, or Just Confused,” a panel chaired by Danah Boyd. A super set of panelists, but judging from what I was spurred to write down, the superstar was Judith Donath, of MIT Media Laboratory. Some extremely sharp and useful observations about the spectrum of privacy. Here’s a taste of what she said:
History is the equivalent of the body. By creating a body of history, we establish social control. Public spaces are places where there is common control of behaviour, private is outside those rules. A public space can be the dinner table. It’s a matter of what social controls you accept.
How many different personas do we keep? And what is our collective norm about how we manage those personas? In Facebook, those personas can collapse. Online, the faux pas are easier because there is less hard and fast perception of where the privacy borders are. How many times have you seen someone picking their nose in a traffic jam because THEY think they are in a private space, but they´re not?
Much of what we say today will be around in 20 years, and out of context. It’s easy to see this in a negative light, but we may be creating a public sphere in which so much is out in public, that we are building a large public space where norms are very broad, the beginnings of a more tolerant society.
Context is essential to privacy. You may have a startup that is doing well, you take an exotic vacation and want to talk about it online, but you have a group of friends financilly struggling and you want to shield them from that information.
What is the value of attention? Celebrities trade privacy for attention. Should companies pay for information that assists them with marketing? Every time you make a friend on facebook, you pay a vulnerability cost.
Now here’s a question. By posting the tweets that everyone made during this speech, am I moving them out of context and violating anyone’s privacy? Or by putting these tweets out on twitter did people surrender their right to keep them to themselves or the immediate audience that they presumed would be listening?