SXSW – Is Privacy Dead

While many assert that "privacy is dead," the complex ways in which people try to control access and visibility suggest that it’s just very confused. Rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water, let’s discuss people’s understanding and experiences of privacy and find ways to 2.0-ify it.

danah boyd Researcher, Microsoft Research
Judith Donath MIT Media Laboratory
Alice Marwick PhD Candidate, New York University
Siva Vaidhyanathan Assoc Professor, University of Virginia

  • db: out panel together to discuss privacy, a group of academics to discuss..we have different definitions of privacy.   There are different cultural views. People don’t ness view in many ‘official’ terms, but look at it as a term of control, what they control. Technology has changed a lot of definitions and behaviours and expectations.
  • SV: writing book – googleisation of everything. focus on nature of transaction between us and Google.  Most only have a usage of tools – searches and email etc. You may be aware that there are some levels of control, but not obvious.  There are 2 annoying assumptions I want to explode – 1 that privacy is the notion of publicity.  Just because you put up 100 pieces on sites it does not mean we don’t care about the 101st. Just because we put up some stuff, does not mean we don’t care about privacy. The 2nd notion is that privacy is a substance that can be traded.    The idea of trading a little bit of privacy for better relevance…that assumes we can break it up into bits. Privacy is not a substance, it is not traded in little bits. It means different things in different contexts. Privacy is a bad word for what we mean.
  • AM: writing on effect of social media on social status. about the sharing of a lot of information. There is a real value in being public…eg Twitter. I’ve interviewed CEOS who would not hire if people don’t have profiles etc.  There is a social value. you have to participate to get value. there is also social support in the network. Have to recognise value, but you have to recognise that the more info you put out, there more useful it is for brands, google etc.  All this info can be aggregated, to create profiles that are valuable.  If you put info out there, you consent to have it used for any reason – I think No.  But how do you reap advantages of public publications without it being used.
  • JD: I look at data visualisation. Public space..spaces where there is some kind of common control what the expected behaviours etc. What is private..is something private to some and public to others.  Online world can collapse the different spaces, mix them up.
  • db: We have a set of properties that we take for granted offline and having to look at them online.  Scale is one thing…eg a scale of publicity we have not seen before.  Tech has changed aggregation, changed the way we can see each other.  So what are the most important
  • SV: no change is purely tech, it has impact from world economy. eg the targeting of goods and services and getting the attention.  That’s why amazon and google grab the data, for both the inperson target and the aggregate.  It goes along with an erosion of the comfort with privacy.  73-76, there was a movement in the US to protect personal info from abuse from the state, with string support from Congress. We got some strong laws – updated the credit control system.   It’s bad, but it works better than most.  Also Watergate…laws passed to prevent one bit of the gov passing info to another. Many of the laws are there today. But most of the strongest have been undermined. Now we take it for granted…we ‘ignore’ it, and are not focusing on the new interface..us and firms.  Not separate from our concern about the gov, as firms sell databases.
  • JD: we are not always aware of the data trail we leave behind, what the firms are building. If we were aware, we may choose to do things different, you need to have awareness to have the choice.  It is hard to have a historical perspective of what is considered normal.  Historically we have come from a unusual level of privacy although before that there was far less – communities were far smaller, people knew everything in the small groups.  Most things in the past have not been recorded – where you are over time, what you are doing. So we have to work out how to manage this
  • db: it gets worked out differently in different populations.  Interviewing young people about their homes, it was not private as they had no control, the internet was more private to them as they had more control, It depends where you are in the power structures
  • AM: Context is one of the key things. Every place has a social context; eg telling doctor something which goes on medical record, that’s fine in that context, but doctor should not tell her best friend. There are specific ways of dealing with information in context.   For firms, should the burden be on the individual on controlling their data or on the firms..NYT had an editorial about opt-out to opt-in (diff US to EU data view)
  • SV: personal info is a form of currency, both in aggregate and individual. If it has value, should I have some form of stake in the data?  I expect to be aware of the extent my information is being used. We have not done this.  Most people here may have been able to manage their privacy, but many won’t be able to – they’re not even aware that there are controls there.
  • JD: when Am talks about context…it highlights the lack of ephemerality of the data. something now could be there in 20yrs and will likely be seen in a different context.  For most people in the US, we are not faced witht he fact that is we say something we are in danger…in many places there is this – but there’s no guarantee that the US won’t ever be the same. There are big serious institutional privacy issues. there is also about how do you want to be seen by people in different contexts.  
  • db: information is currency not just in an economic sense but in a social sense. many here have gained status and even jobs by putting stuff out there.  We are faced with the fact the tech is converging all these contexts. So how do we deal with these contexts as a design and a norm thing
  • SV: I teach about privacy and surveillance, in different classes. Get different reactions.   Get them to read Jane Jacobs. There is a level of surveillance we invite into our lives (eg look out for the neighbour)  we engage in those transactions with each other; ie if there is no power difference, when there is a reciprocity. There’s trade.  When I trade with Amazon, Google, state, there little reciprocity, no feedback. Building in the two way can be useful. 
  • AM: there is bleeding between networks, eg LinkedIn or Facebook. Some have single contexts, others have multiple contexts, how can you manage?
  • db: Celebrities have a different level of reciprocity
  • AM: it is also the same for microcelebrity, with tech
  • JD: how do you have a society figure out what the norms are, about para-social relationships. You have millions of people trying to determine the norms, you can’t have a relationship with millions, but there are nodes the network can focus on and have a conversation around it. We are interested in people paying attention to us.  What is the cost that you are willing to pay to get the benefit of the attention.
  • SV: there’s no zero sum between privacy and publicity. We give up control when we resign that battle. We assume that someone who has a lot of FB friends, a movie star give sup the right to privacy and dignity. We should not assume that someone who engages in public should not deserve some privacy. We don’t always view people who live a public life as real people who deserve dignity and respect.  eg the Star Wars kid.

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