TCLP 2010-07-07 Will We Ever Have Effective Complex Privacy Controls?

This is a feature cast, an episode of The Command Line Podcast.

Listener feedback this week is from quite a few folks. Matt wrote in about outliners, asking what I do in particular to bend vim to this task. I use a vimrc line like “autocmd BufEnter,BufNew *.notes set sw=4 ts=4 expandtab spell tw=0 foldmethod=indent smartindent”. Colin posted a comment about AAC and chapter marks. John had a much more incisive comment on my switching to an open stack segment. Ian also wrote about outliners, suggesting org-mode and in particular a couple of screencasts. And Max shared his experiences switching to Linux not once, but twice.

The hacker word of the week this week is filter.

The feature this week is a rant digging into the question of whether we’ll ever develop effective controls that match our complex expectations of privacy and digging into the source of that complexity. I mention a couple of posts by danah boyd, some criticism of the demands made of Facebook by privacy advocates, my reading of Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody“, and small world networks.


View the detailed show notes online. You can grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.

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3 Replies to “TCLP 2010-07-07 Will We Ever Have Effective Complex Privacy Controls?”

  1. Tom — some of this is what I discussed with you previously, but I wanted to formally post it as a comment as well.

    You’re right — generally, we’re not clueful about the scope of how information spreads amongst friends, friends of friends and the greater world at-large. That said, I don’t think there’s any real service to be had by compartmentalising or defining privacy issues into ‘simple’ or ‘complex’ metrics, or to having different operational levels of privacy depending on whether or not the network is big or small. I actually think privacy can be a little easier than that.

    It boils down to education and a little conditioning. Just as most folks had to ‘learn’ about the Internet, online purchases, Facebook, etc. in some way (from friends, family, business acquiantances, the news, etc.), so too, they need to learn how to navigate within the system. Call it the digital version of the ‘don’t talk to strangers’ speech that you likely gave your sons.

    FoaF aside, most folks blissfully disclose their personal information for little more than an offer of a T-shirt and a credit card. Why? Because marketers have spent the past 20 years convincing (read: educating) people that its no big deal, that the SSN is an acceptable form of identification, and everyone finally started to agree. Want to get them to stop doing that? Make it illegal (for one). Educate. Disincentivize companies from asking (perhaps that’s a little of what Danah was after when she encouraged regulation of social networks).

    Or to go back to what Danah said in her first article, explain to people that while radical inclusiveness may work for some (Scobble, Zuckerberg), just like the SSN-as-id example, it doesn’t have to be the default.

    1. I don’t necessarily disagree about re-conditioning expectations. In fact, you missed my point about complex privacy, I was not suggesting more compartments but rather that there is a nuanced continuum from one simple pole, all open, to the other, all secret. In my view, Facebook’s controls fail for missing that point, perhaps intentionally. My notion of a gauge wasn’t to try to chunk things up but rather to augment our flawed intuitions by calculating something we don’t have a good fingertip feel for yet into a simple number we could more easily visualize until the idea of unevenly dense social fabrics starts to sink in. Ideally, we’ll get to a point where an external metric isn’t necessary so much.

      I may not have been clear that my ideas about a complex privacy spectrum and some cognitive aids were about informing our expectations, a la your agreement over education. As with some discussions of privacy that say we need better understanding, I am frustrated by the mere suggestion of education. We need to move past just the notion and start spit-balling ideas we can communicate, implements, share and iterate. My ideas may not be workable but perhaps in failing to advance the state of our expectations, they’ll help lead us to ideas that will ultimately succeed.


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