SXSW panel snippets – ‘Is Privacy Dead or Just Very Confused?’

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

Abstract: 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.

Some snippets from the four speakers:

Siva Vaidhyanathan

  • Writing a book: The Googlization of Everything
  • Myth: privacy is the opposite of publicity
  • Putting information about yourself on websites doesn’t mean you don’t care about what you don’t share. ‘Over-sharers’ still want control over how they’re represented
  • Myth: privacy is a substance that can be traded away. He’d been frustrated by recent “people are willing to trade a little bit of privacy for a better user experience” quote from Google, but this assumes it’s something you can trade in little bits
  • But: personal information is a form of currency

Alice Marwick

  • Need to recognise the value of sharing, but also that it’s useful to data miners
  • Information can be aggregated into valuable profiles
  • Microcelebrities are different to real celebrities because they know who is reading their blog etc, but there’s still a power inequality.

Judith Donath

  • Your history is to online as your body is to the physical-world
  • We’re largely unaware of the information companies hold on us.
  • Need to design spaces in a way that makes it obvious how much is public, and what is seen by whom
  • If we saw it we’d make more intelligent choices.
  • Your data trail is invisible to you. We need an every day experience of our data selves, in the same way a mirror provides a reflection of our physical self
  • Children don’t regard their home as private, because they don’t have control there

danah boyd

  • Information is currency not just in economic sense, but in social sense
  • We’ve gained a lot by sharing information about ourselves and our thoughts, but current design is not allowing us to negotiate control of context
  • See Jane Jacobs on surveillance – we invite a level of surveillance that is useful to us.

At this point, with about 10 minutes to go, I was becoming frustrated that it had not opened up for questions. I don’t think I was alone, because while Vaidhyanathan complained about the way that Facebook can “unliaterally change its policies” without having to act in a way that was accountable to its users people in the audience were desperate to join in the discussion, literally shouting “but they did!” from their seats. Finally, when questions from the floor were invites, Jeff Jarvis was straight up. Voicing what Tom Coates was obviously also thinking, Jeff said

“we have to see the positive here. there is economic widsom in giving us visibility and control over our data.”

and you should read Jeff’s post about the panel too.

I love Donath’s digital mirror concept. Also, I need to read Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

2 replies on “SXSW panel snippets – ‘Is Privacy Dead or Just Very Confused?’”

  1. In the privacy panel, I left confused regarding Vaidhyanathan’s stance. First he said privacy can’t be measured or traded but then he said it was a form of currency. From what I understand about currency, it can be both measured and traded.

    Wanted to see if I’m not alone in my confusion.

    Great summary –

  2. I was confused about that to. To be fair though, Siva said that privacy can’t be broken off and traded, and that attention is a form of currency which can be traded. So if you accept that those are different but related things then I don’t think there’s an inconsistency.

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