I love danah boyd’s research and her perspectives on things! This is an excerpt of her responses to a debate on privacy for the Wall Street Journal. The full article is available via the link to Social Media Collective below.
Debating Privacy in a Networked World for the WSJ
November 20, 2011
by danah boyd
Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal posted excerpts from a debate between me, Stewart Baker, Jeff Jarvis, and Chris Soghoian on privacy. In preparation for the piece, they had us respond to a series of questions. Jeff posted the full text of his responses here. Now it’s my turn. Here are the questions that I was asked and my responses.
Question: How much should people care about privacy? (400 words)
People should – and do – care deeply about privacy. But privacy is not simply the control of information. Rather, privacy is the ability to assert control over a social situation. This requires that people have agency in their environment and that they are able to understand any given social situation so as to adjust how they present themselves and determine what information they share. Privacy violations occur when people have their agency undermined or lack relevant information in a social setting that’s needed to act or adjust accordingly. Privacy is not protected by complex privacy settings that create what Alessandro Acquisti calls “the illusion of control.” Rather, it’s protected when people are able to fully understand the social environment in which they are operating and have the protections necessary to maintain agency.
Social media has prompted a radical shift. We’ve moved from a world that is “private-by-default, public-through-effort” to one that is “public-by-default, private-with-effort.” Most of our conversations in a face-to-face setting are too mundane for anyone to bother recording and publicizing. They stay relatively private simply because there’s no need or desire to make them public. Online, social technologies encourage broad sharing and thus, participating on sites like Facebook or Twitter means sharing to large audiences. When people interact casually online, they share the mundane. They aren’t publicizing; they’re socializing. While socializing, people have no interest in going through the efforts required by digital technologies to make their pithy conversations more private. When things truly matter, they leverage complex social and technical strategies to maintain privacy.
The strategies that people use to assert privacy in social media are diverse and complex, but the most notable approach involves limiting access to meaning while making content publicly accessible. I’m in awe of the countless teens I’ve met who use song lyrics, pronouns, and community references to encode meaning into publicly accessible content. If you don’t know who the Lions are or don’t know what happened Friday night or don’t know why a reference to Rihanna’s latest hit might be funny, you can’t interpret the meaning of the message. This is privacy in action.
The reason that we must care about privacy, especially in a democracy, is that it’s about human agency. To systematically undermine people’s privacy – or allow others to do so – is to deprive people of freedom and liberty.
via Debating Privacy in a Networked World for the WSJ « Social Media Collective.