December 26, 2003
Technology and Norms of Publicity

Joi Ito posts on the conundrum of semi-private online spaces, those that don't have access controls but whose authors seem to have an expectation of privacy nonetheless:

How many people who blog know that many blogs automatically send trackbacks or send pings to pingers sites like ... One of the problems of using the "big time bloggers" to design the technology is that we often forget that many people would rather NOT have their contexts collapsed.
We early adopters know how referer logs work; we know that Google and the Internet Archive (and a host of less benign others we don't know) can keep their argus eyes on everything we do. We know how to write .htaccess files, or at least whom to ask for something similar, if we want better (though still not total) privacy. We've internalized the norm that conduct not marked private is public.

There's a privacy tension that springs from differing understandings of technological capabilities -- and the social spaces they affect. Most of us at a Creative Commons party know tiny digital cameras and phonecams; we're attuned to the norm that everything we do in public may be photographed and webbed unless we specifically object. But others, in other places, may not share that technological familiarity; they think their activity is private, within the circle of those actually present or invited. Just as they don't realize that referer logs and search can advertise "private" pages, they don't expect that an in-person meeting will migrate online to a wider public.

Yet there's also a second-order tension, even among those who fully understand the technoloy. We can appreciate its capabilities and still regret the loss of privacy. What could previously be left implicit, the distinction between a private gathering and a public event, must now be spelled out before the webloggers and mobloggers get to work. We haven't yet found a good technological replica for those intermediate spaces between secret and world-readable. (It's not just copyright holders who worry about the ease of digital redistribution; and trusted computing isn't the answer to either's concerns.)

I wondered at first if privacy tensions would ease as more people became more technically sophisticated, but I'm inclined to think that gaps in understanding will just move with the tech, and social norms will follow still further behind.

Posted by Wendy at December 26, 2003 01:12 PM | TrackBack

Great site!

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