December 11, 2009

The Goldilocks Problem of Privacy in Public

Filed under: commons, events, musings, networks, politics, privacy — wseltzer @ 8:55 am

One of the very interesting sessions at Supernova featured a pair of speakers on aspects of privacy and publicity: danah boyd on “visibility” and Adam Greenfield on “urban objects.” Together, I found their talks making me think about the functions of privacy: how can we steer the course between too much and too little information-sharing?

danah pointed out the number of places we don’t learn enough. We “see” others on social media but fail to follow through on what we learn. She described a teen whose MySpace page chronicled abuse at her mother’s hands for months before the girl picked up a weapon. After the fact, the media jumped on “murder has a MySpace,” but before, none had used that public information to help her out of the abuse. In a less dramatic case of short-sighted vision, danah showed Twitter users responding to trending black names after the BET Awards with “what’s happening to the neighborhood?” Despite the possibilities networked media offer, we often fail to look below the surface, to learn about those around us and make connections.

Adam, showing the possibilities of networked sensors in urban environments, described a consequence of “learning too much.” Neighbors in a small apartment building had been getting along just fine until someone set up a web forum. In the half year thereafter, most of the 6 apartments turned over. People didn’t want to know so much about those with whom they shared an address. Here, we might see what Jeffrey Rosen and Lawrence Lessig have characterized as the problem of “short attention spans.” We learn too much to ignore, but not enough to put the new factoid in context. We don’t pay attention long enough to understand.

How do we get the “just right” level of visibility to and from others? and what is “just right”? danah notes that we participate in networked publics, Helen Nissenbaum talks of contexts. One challenge is tuning our message and understanding to the various publics in which we speak and listen; knowing that what we put on Facebook or MySpace may be seen by many and understood by few. Like danah, Kevin Marks points out the asymmetry of the publics to which we speak and listen.

Another challenge is to find connections among publics and build upon them to engage with those who seem different, Ethan Zuckerman’s xenophilia. The ‘Net may have grown past the stage where just Internet use could be conversation-starter enough but spaces within it take common interest and create community. Socializing in World of Warcraft or a blog’s comments section can make us more willing to hear our counterparts’ context.

Finally, our largest public, here in the United States, is our democracy. We need to live peacefully with our neighbors and reach common decisions. Where our time is too limited to bestow attention on all, do we need to deliberately look away? John Rawls, in Political Liberalism, discusses political choices supported by an “overlapping consensus” from people with differing values and comprehensive views of “the good.” I wonder whether this overlapping consensus depends on a degree of privacy and a willingness to look away from differences outside the consensus.

September 26, 2007

Which is more open: the Nokia N95 or the iPhone?

Filed under: musings, open, phone — wseltzer @ 6:16 pm

Right in the middle of my New York Times today (yes, I still read it, and on paper) are two full-page color ads for Nokia’s N95, with the taglines “Comes with unlimited potential. We believe the smartest devices should keep getting smarter. That’s why we’ve left the Nokia Nseries open to enhancement, experimentation, and evolution. Open to anything.” url (warning, flash-heavy)

I love it. Just the stance toward user innovation I’d like to see more companies adopt. They’ve borrowed a few pages right out of von Hippel’s Democratizing Innovation, mashed up with Benkler’s Wealth of Networks and Zittrain’s Generativity.

This contrasts, of course, with the advertised nature of the iPhone, locked to Apple’s apps and carrier. But we’ve also seen that within weeks of the iPhone’s launch, hackers have opened it, unlocked it, and built scores of apps.

So I wonder, how does the level of independent development on the N95, and Symbian, which powers it, compare with that on the iPhone? The N95 retails for $749 in the U.S., limiting the community likely to embrace it. Apple’s price drop brought the iPhone to $400; would it have engendered the same creativity if left at $600? Does Apple’s “cool” factor do more to bring in the hackers than Nokia’s; are touch gestures more of a draw than built-in GPS?

Or am I just seeing one side of the U.S.- Europe cellphone divide, and do Symbian developers prevail abroad where they’ve had more access to unlocked phones and fewer lock-subsidies to compete with?

June 13, 2007

The Chokepoints Will Choke Us Yet: AT&T to Filter Net Traffic

Filed under: Add new tag, censorship, code, musings — Wendy @ 3:26 am

“AT&T Inc. has joined Hollywood studios and recording companies in trying to keep pirated films, music and other content off its network — the first major carrier of Internet traffic to do so,” the LA Times reports. So customers will pay in added overhead and false positives, while filesharers adapt to evade the filtering (for both infringing and non-infringing traffic). Who wins? The sellers of filtering snake-oil tech, perhaps.

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