Law in the Internet Society
Ready for a second review.

Lessons from the Fireside: Synthesizing the Journey Thus Far

-- By BrianS - 02 Dec 2009

Something Private this Way Comes

We are now well-acquainted with the exclamation that privacy is dead. In the days of yore, we are told, there was secrecy - and the secrecy was good. But the digital age promised us services customized to our every desire if we would simply let others know a bit about us. "Like the oleander, however, the beauty is the danger." The stories of the sacrifice of privacy on the altar of technological advancement are now legion. And so, they say, privacy is dead.

The truth of the matter is darker. The claim that privacy is "dead" or "lost" suggests a sort of invasion of our secret places, shadowed eyes peering into our bedrooms, probing mentalists looking into our thoughts themselves. It also suggests that we now have no concept of privacy in our lives. But neither implication is reality.

To the contrary, we have not stopped understanding what privacy is, nor have we stopped thinking that some things are private. We retain a sense that there are matters that are ours only to tell, our secrets to hold, our nakedness to conceal. Technology does not peer into our innermost sanctum, it is we who spill our secrets to technology. Technology does not read our minds, we instead confess what we are thinking, why we are thinking it, and to whom we are telling it. We do so in real time. Privacy has not been lost, it has been given away; privacy has not died, we have made it into a fully-living monster. This is the Frankensteinian New Privacy, a horror of our own making.

The Monster, Made

The New Privacy is a clever, silver-tongued beast. It tells us that no matter what we might think is personal, we must still blog about that party last weekend. The creature boldly professes that it values our secrets, but that it must possess them so that it can be a better companion; TWikiGuest, don't you want to be better friends?

In sum, the New Privacy has convinced us to disrobe in public without discarding our fear of nakedness.

Like any good creature of nightmare, we do not fully understand the New Privacy's power; it is difficult to pin down its harms. Because the Privacy operates in shadow and mist, we cannot clearly perceive where it might next strike. But it is always lurking near; it watches us at home, and as we travel afar. And because we have allowed the beast to so embrace our lives, the threat now surrounds us on all sides. In the light of day it beckons us to adhere to its wishes, and even in slumber the monster's dreams have power.

The Privacy is also without discrimination: it chases the young and the old, yielding not even for the departed. Indeed, the creature draws strength from all that we are. From the dressings that we clothe ourselves in to the taverns in which we gather; from the vessels we travel the virtual seas upon to the parchment we use to exchange letters. From each of these, the Privacy strengthens.

Fires in the Dark

But not all of the villagers are without ears to hear; after many tales of the beast's rampage, some have found their torches and blades. They have set out in isolation and with entourage. There is disagreement about how the beast should be met: should we capture and cage it, or should we slay it directly? By what means should it be caged? But the goal is the same: the New Privacy must be stopped.

Perhaps you have not yet met the Beast. And perhaps you insist it is not real at all. In fact, I myself have never met the creature face to face, and the harms it has dealt me are yet few. But I have listened at the fireside long enough to know that something moves in the darkness. I have seen the marks in the dirt sufficient to know its measure, and to know that it is growing. I am now one who is searching for his pitchfork in the night; I tell you this story because I do not wish to dwell in darkness alone. If my story thus far has not convinced you, I invite you to sit at the fireside and hear what I have heard. If you are listening, you will not stay seated long.

The Way Home

How then, traveler, could we advance if we are only coming to wisdom so far down the path? The answer begins where all nightmares end: we must wake up. The power of the monster is its secrecy, for if it is as terrible as we claim, how long would the villagers let it live once it was dragged into the light of day? Until the monster is revealed, we will fight it alone. And we must act soon.

But the New Privacy is not a creature of myth, and sunlight alone will not dispatch it. Further, some welcome the monster's influence; we therefore must not simply dispatch the beast, for to do so would be to deny the villagers freedom of choice and thereby sacrifice part of ourselves.

Instead, like anything with potential to do great harm, we must limit the monster's reach. We must require the Privacy's agents to reveal their purposes whenever they seek to deal with us. We must require those disclosures to strike the difficult balance between entirety, brevity, and clarity. We cannot pretend that this balance is easily found. But if we are to both respect the choices of those who would freely deal with the monster and yet accept that those dealings are dangerous to us all, that balance is the only viable option of which I know. And if you insist, fellow traveler, that there are better solutions than I here propose, better ways to escape the thicket that we are now within?

Well, TWikiGuest, then you see why I am so eager to have you along.


Since I am called twice in your essay, please let me say a few here even though it is not yet ready for review.

First, i am impressed with your last part writing about "monster". it answers well my question in my essay ("Question is how" - i deleted that sentence in the revised version before reading your paper). I agree that it is not easy to find the optimal balance between a monopolistic power and competing insurgents.

I sometimes become pessimistic how we can improve the world. However, I believe that this nation, U.S., has power to create something new and to challenge monsters always.

Rather, I am more concerned about those societies which do not have this counter-culture or anti-mainstream mentality.

Thank you, Brian, for carefully reading my paper. Your paper gives me some encouragement.

-- AndoY - 06 Dec 2009

Ando, Brian actually inserted a code % WIKIUSERNAME % (without spaces in between the % and WIKIUSERNAME) so that the reader will see his name. Pretty nifty tool.

-- AllanOng - 06 Dec 2009

That is correct, if you are logged in while reading the paper it will kick up your Wiki Name. If you are not logged in, you'll see TWikiGuest I believe. The idea behind the %WIKIUSERNAME% code is to give the essay an aura of "that's kind of creepy." Which, given the dangers I'm trying to identify in the essay, is just what I'm going for.

So while I did read your paper carefully Ando, I didn't single you out particularly. wink That would be mean!

-- BrianS - 06 Dec 2009

What I am trying to do in this essay is capture our privacy discussion and some of the lessons it presents, but in a different form. I have two areas I'm particularly interested in comments, but please comment on any:

1) is the linking overwhelming, especially the links where the URL does not clearly indicate the destination's content; and

2) do the links you do jump to serve their purposes well?

I also welcome any other comments or suggestions. Oh, and as a note, I debated restricting access for the wiki user name feature to always avoid TWikiGuest. I did not because I decided a gimmick was not worth limiting access.

-- BrianS - 17 Dec 2009


Stylistically, I truly enjoyed your writing. Substantively, you do an excellent job of tying together many of the themes and concerns from the class. As for the links, I feel that they aid the paper. They add to its character, and work hand in hand with the paper’s ideas to help get your point across. Without the links, you would likely have to completely change the style and feel of your writing. The danger with too many links is that they can interrupt the flow of the paper. Fortunately, here, the links do much more good than harm.

p.s. Yes, we should be better friends. I'll just need some of your personal information to fill in my online "friendship application" form.

-- ScottMcKinney - 30 Dec 2009

An excellent summary of the situation overall, if you remap it from horror-genre into information for people who want some. I think the purpleness of the prose should be scaled back a bit. I don't think it's inherently a bad idea to use melodrama (though some might: melodrama is a self-parodying style, and advocacy too easily parodied is soon replaced by its opposite), but I think you have to be careful with it, and sometimes here you fall over into bathos.

I find the use of other peoples' papers also a double-edged tool. Where you are actually in contact with the substance of others' ideas it is exactly what the wiki is designed to achieve, and I'm very pleased to see it working. Where you dip into someone's writing just to fetch a turn of phrase, which is entirely appropriate of course, I feel the loss of an actual connection and its replacement by a mere reference, like the junk-mail use of %WIKIUSERNAME% to make a small point where a large one might have been possible.

Thank you for your comments. I will revise to scale back the melodrama and consider if I can better use the other papers I am referencing. I certainly intended a genuine connection with the contents of each, not something superficial. Last of all, I will think more on the use of the wikiusername bit - my hope in using it was that it would emphasize that even simple tools on a Wiki can know who is near. But perhaps I expected too much from a name.

-- BrianS - 29 Jan 2010


# * Set ALLOWTOPICVIEW = TWikiAdminGroup, BrianS


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r16 - 07 Sep 2011 - 00:43:58 - IanSullivan
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