danah boyd: Privacy and Publicity

Loose notes from SXSW 2010 session by social network researcher danah boyd: Privacy and Publicity

Just because people put info in public places doesn’t mean it was meant to be aggregated. Just because something is public doesn’t mean people expect it to be publicized.

What people mean by privacy is more complicated than what can be summarized in a sound bite. A conversation with a friend could be spread by that friend. *Trust* is what allows us to go forward with the conversation. We don’t always navigate privacy well.

There are always evesdroppers. Unaccountable contact. Say a conversation in a cafe. You have an understanding of the maximum number of people you can accommodate in your social net. Online environments aren’t nearly as stabilized as offline ones. It takes time to understand the involvement.

Security through obscurity is not as ridiculous as it might seem. The average blog is read by six people. You have a better sense for the size of your audience in a cafe’.

People aren’t good at navigating when the rules of a social net change, e.g. Facebook’s changing of privacy rules. Ask a user to tell you what their privacy settings are, then walk through their actual settings with them. “I have yet to meet a single person who actually knew what their actual privacy settings were.”

Differentiate b/w PII (personally identifiable info) and PEI (personally embarrassing information). People make themselves vulnerable to make connections. When the settings are changed and the PEI goes public there’s a huge fail.

Teenagers are more conscious about what they have to gain by going public, adults more concerned about what they have to lose.

It’s easy to be private in public in meatspace, much harder to do online. People are not used to having the papparazzi follow them around online. Today’s 12 year olds were not alive when the paparazzi drove Princess Di to her death.

Part of what makes Twitter fascinating: People don’t engage FB status updates the same way as Twitter at all. Twitter users seem more interested in having audiences – FB more about groups of friends. But Twitter isn’t just for celebs and their followers.

There are 2 types of trending topics: Those that start from external factors (news story) and those that are internal to the network (e.g. a hashtag meme)

Many of us have benefitted from speaking in public. With privilege it’s easy to take for granted things that others can’t. Assume you have the right to challenge authority, walk in public without being afraid of losing your job, partner, rights. I can seek publicity without fear. These things aren’t true for an immigrant whose family might get deported. How public is your kid’s teacher allowed to be online? Can she have an online dating profile? Can she express politics on Twitter? We expect the teacher to always be the teacher. To say “everyone should feel good in public” doesn’t reflect the real world.

The “public by default” society we’re creating is not necessarily optimal.

Talking to kids: The worst thing you an do is start the conversation with “Back in my day.” That day doesn’t exist for kids. Instead, “What are you trying to achieve? Who do you think you’re talking to? ”

Angelina Jolie, many bloggers say they put so much out there in order to maintain their privacy. Sounds ironic, but by giving some away, people don’t come poking around for more. It actually works.

4 Replies to “danah boyd: Privacy and Publicity”

  1. Danah played drums in my high school marching band as a freshman when I was a senior. I’m always tickled by the contrast between that image and her current high profile gig.

  2. Marcus – That’s an amazing way to complete the loop. So I guess I only have three degrees of separation from danah boyd? :)

  3. The public by default society is the new norm. An entire generation is growing up with facebook and twitter. And there’s more invasive stuff coming out all the time.

    Have you seen how http://www.dirtyphonebook.com is exposing everybody’s phone number deliberately? If you have any secrets, they won’t be secret for much longer.

    It’s a brave new world out there.

  4. Stephanie – I for one am supportive of the “public by default” mode that we’re seeing more of now. I believe that if you want to be private, you should do it somewhere else than on the internet. I don’t consider “public by default” to be “invasive” — every single one of us is a being in the public sphere. We’re public by default in meatspace, why not online as well?

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