Home » Future, identity, Privacy, Web 2.0

2010 Prediction One: Privacy Makes the Frontpage

Submitted by on December 16, 2009 – 9:48 pm5 Comments

Network_effectI have been working for a few months on a Radar post titled “Anonymity is the Fifth Estate” –I have been buried in work and haven’t been able to pay it the attention I believe that it deserves.

The core premise around Anonymity as the Fifth Estate is this:

Journalism, as the fourth estate ensures that the actions of the powerful are made transparent to the public. As its counterpart, the ability to organize, communicate and coordinate political group action with anonymity is critical to maintaining a free society.  In other words, anonymity is crucial to having a public willing or able to do anything about what journalism uncovers.

While we have been wringing our hands over the loss of newspapers this year, I fundamentally believe that journalism will come out OK… I can’t say the same for the prospects of remaining anonymous in civic life.

The mix of sensor tracking, facial recognition technology, GPS in every mobile phone, the increasing ubiquity of surveillance cameras in urban centers, and the massive consolidation of identity brokers such as Facebook and Google make anonymity increasingly difficult – online or off.

Corporations from Sprint (who gave away customer data 8 million times in one year) to Facebook, (whose new privacy policies have been roundly criticized) are in it for business – not high-minded civics.

The convergence of online consumer tools that trade off of identity and location doesn’t bode well for privacy and anonymity in civic life.   These tools encourage sharing as a core part of their model.   Sharing and making your information public encourages network effects which are core to Web 2.o business models.  Network effects lead to winner-takes-most markets (aka monopolies) in a market (the internet) that has 1.7 billion members and growing.

I predict that in 2010 privacy will come into its own as a uniquely 21st century concern.  What will it take for that to happen?   Two things:

First, a first class Tiger Woodsian privacy breach.  Not sure what that means yet – but I would imagine it to involve Facebook, third party holders of your publicly identifiable information (every quiz you ever took knows just about everything about you and your friends) and some cross-hack into a financial services firm.  Call it identity theft 2.0.  Mi

Second, the emergence of a  clearer language to describe privacy.  Just as the Eskimos famously have seven words for snow – we need a more refined language to speak about this issue.  Privacy is vague and means different things to different people.   Law follows language.  I once read an essay that until “date rape” was in the common vernacular it was hardly a prosecutable crime.

What do you think about Privacy?  Is it overrated?  Am I an alarmist?

5 Comments »

  • Alora says:

    I like the idea of a new lexicon around the notion of privacy; I wish it were an are that got a bit more focus, because I think it's far more meaningful than most people probably assume. And no, I don't think you're an alarmist, per se, but still struggling with the inadequacy of language to keep up with our current social conditions.

    As you noted, a great many people were upset last week by the changes of Facebook's privacy policy. As someone who has very low expectations when it comes to the amount of privacy it is reasonable to expect on the web, I am always a little surprised to see the severity of people's reactions when this happens. But, part of the problem, is that the granularity of privacy expectation is highly subjective and highly fluid. And people whose privacy expectations map more directly to a pre-web world than to a web 1.0 world (where everything was binary, and if you were online, you pretty much gave up your hopes of privacy) are going to continue to be bothered by the shifting lines, until we come up with better ways for them to feel more in control.

    I don't think it's radically dissimilar to the “friends” notion on Facebook: it's a limitation of language that was always there (after all, how do most of us refer to former friends we haven't spoken to in years, but still remember fondly? Facebook isn't the only place that the word “friend” was over-used and misapplied), but which modern social context makes more visible.

    Either way, the problem is only going to continue to get more complex over time, and I think the first step is acknowledging that — just like so many other social constructs that fit our Industrial Age world — the very nature of privacy is different in an Information Age, and we need to update not only our expectations, but also the language we use to define them.

  • Alora says:

    I like the idea of a new lexicon around the notion of privacy; I wish it were an are that got a bit more focus, because I think it's far more meaningful than most people probably assume. And no, I don't think you're an alarmist, per se, but still struggling with the inadequacy of language to keep up with our current social conditions.

    As you noted, a great many people were upset last week by the changes of Facebook's privacy policy. As someone who has very low expectations when it comes to the amount of privacy it is reasonable to expect on the web, I am always a little surprised to see the severity of people's reactions when this happens. But, part of the problem, is that the granularity of privacy expectation is highly subjective and highly fluid. And people whose privacy expectations map more directly to a pre-web world than to a web 1.0 world (where everything was binary, and if you were online, you pretty much gave up your hopes of privacy) are going to continue to be bothered by the shifting lines, until we come up with better ways for them to feel more in control.

    I don't think it's radically dissimilar to the “friends” notion on Facebook: it's a limitation of language that was always there (after all, how do most of us refer to former friends we haven't spoken to in years, but still remember fondly? Facebook isn't the only place that the word “friend” was over-used and misapplied), but which modern social context makes more visible.

    Either way, the problem is only going to continue to get more complex over time, and I think the first step is acknowledging that — just like so many other social constructs that fit our Industrial Age world — the very nature of privacy is different in an Information Age, and we need to update not only our expectations, but also the language we use to define them.

  • […] true impact of the social web is privacy.  Or, more accurately, the line between private and public.  Never before has it been more […]

  • […] true impact of the social web is privacy.  Or, more accurately, the line between private and public.  Never before has it been more […]

  • […] true impact of the social web is privacy.  Or, more accurately, the line between private and public.  Never before has it been more […]

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.